AbstractBackgroundWe examined school reopening policies amidst rising transmission of the highly transmissible Delta variant, accounting for vaccination among individuals aged 12 years and older, with the goal of characterizing risk to students and teachers under various within-school non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) combined with specific vaccination coverage levels.MethodsWe developed an individual-based transmission model to simulate transmission of the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 among a synthetic population, representative of Bay Area cities. We parameterized the model using community contact rates from vaccinated households ascertained from a household survey of Bay Area families with children conducted between February – April, 2021.Interventions and outcomesWe evaluated the additional infections in students and teachers/staff resulting over a 128-day semester from in-school instruction compared to remote instruction when various NPIs (mask use, cohorts, and weekly testing of students/teachers) were implemented in schools, across various community-wide vaccination coverages (50%, 60%, 70%), and student (≥12 years) and teacher/staff vaccination coverages (50% - 95%). We quantified the added benefit of universal masking over masking among unvaccinated students and teachers, across varying levels of vaccine effectiveness (45%, 65%, 85%), and compared results between Delta and Alpha variant circulation.ResultsThe Delta variant sharply increases the risk of within-school COVID-transmission when compared to the Alpha variant. In our highest risk scenario (50% community and within-school vaccine coverage, no within-school NPIs, and predominant circulation of the Delta variant), we estimated that an elementary school could see 33-65 additional symptomatic cases of COVID-19 over a four-month semester (depending on the relative susceptibility of children <10 years). In contrast, under the Bay Area reopening plan (universal mask use, community and school vaccination coverage of 70%), we estimated excess symptomatic infection attributable to school reopening among 2.0-9.7% of elementary students (8-36 excess symptomatic cases per school over the semester), 3.0% of middle school students (13 cases per school) and 0.4% of high school students (3 cases per school). Excess rates among teachers attributable to reopening were similar. Achievement of lower risk tolerances, such as <5 excess infections per 1,000 students or teachers, required a cohort approach in elementary and middle school populations. In the absence of NPIs, increasing the vaccination coverage of community members from 50% to 70% or elementary teachers from 70% to 95% reduced the estimated excess rate of infection among elementary school students attributable to school transmission by 24% and 41%, respectively. We estimated that with 70% coverage of the eligible community and school population with a vaccine that is ≤65% effective, universal masking can avert more cases than masking of unvaccinated persons alone.ConclusionsAmidst circulation of the Delta variant, our findings demonstrated that schools are not inherently low risk, yet can be made so with high community vaccination coverages and universal masking. Vaccination of adult community members and teachers protects unvaccinated elementary and middle school children. Elementary and middle schools that can support additional interventions, such as cohorts and testing, should consider doing so, particularly if additional studies find that younger children are equally as susceptible as adults to the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2.LimitationsWe did not consider the effect of social distancing in classrooms, or variation in testing frequency, and considerable uncertainty remains in key transmission parameters.