A study of more than 200,000 K-12 students across 47 states, The Wall Street Journal reports Wednesday, shows that the coronavirus case rate is a minuscule .13%, leaving critics of virtual and hybrid learning programs demanding that students be allowed to return to in-classroom instruction.
The infection rate among staff — a concern cited by teacher’s unions and even parents worried about the effects of a return to a typical format for K-12 education — is also shockingly low, the WSJ notes. A study of staff working in open schools showed a case rate of just .24%.
“A group of researchers, spearheaded by Brown University Professor Emily Oster, have created and made available the most comprehensive database on schools and Covid case rates for students and staff since the pandemic started,” the outlet noted in an opinion piece. “Her data—covering almost 200,000 kids across 47 states from the last two weeks of September—showed a Covid-19 case rate of 0.13% among students and 0.24% among staff. That’s a shockingly and wonderfully low number. By comparison, the current overall U.S. case rate is 2.6%, an order of magnitude higher.”
The case rate on college campuses remains high, according to USA Today, forcing many colleges and college towns to take additional precautions, above and beyond recommendations made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Several university students have died from the virus and thousands of students have been affected.
But colleges and college towns where the population explodes only when school is in session, function as closed environments — the kind of environment where coronavirus thrives. Matters become worse in student housing, where the population is dense and student interactions are frequent.
In K-12 education, though, it appears that concerns of “superspreader schools” were “somewhat unfounded,” according to at least one state education commissioner — and according to the CDC’s own data.
“Research has shown that hospitalization and fatality rates for school-age children are also extremely low. People 19 and younger account for only 1.2% of Covid-19 hospitalizations in the U.S. during the peak of the pandemic,” the WSJ notes. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that of all Covid-19 deaths up to Oct. 10, only 74 were of children under age 15. During the 2019-20 flu season, the CDC estimates, 434 children under 18 died of the flu.”
The Wall Street Journal does note that there is less data on how reopening schools affects teachers, but information from Europe seems to show that, where schools did not close, infection rates resembled those of the population at large.
The Brown economists also point out that time spent outside of a structured educational environment affects children in the long run, both in loss of future wages — one study from Georgetown estimated “that shutting down all American schools for only four months would result in $2.5 trillion in lost future wages” — and in overall health.
“Lower incomes mean people aren’t able to buy safer cars and afford healthier foods, which inevitably leads to shorter lifespans. Even if the reports overstate the financial losses dramatically, these are large losses and will surely lead to tragic health outcomes in the future,” the WSJ notes. “Moreover, mental-health surveys indicate that keeping young children isolated from each other for months has devastating psychological consequences.”
In New York, where local officials have agonized over whether to allow in-person learning, the Brown economists’ predictions do seem to be playing out. The New York Times reports that in the New York City public schools, where there is a strict testing regimen in place, authorities found only 18 positive cases out of 10,676 tests, leaving officials to declare the move back to in-person education a preliminary success.