Coronavirus

Hey, Teacher! Don't Leave Those Kids at Home

Schools don’t seem to spread the coronavirus much at all.

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As newly detected COVID-19 infections in France spiraled toward 40,000 a day—almost three times the U.S. rate in per capita terms—President Emmanuel Macron announced that his country would undertake a second national lockdown, starting last Friday. But there was one big difference from France's last lockdown: This time, the schools would remain open.

It's a sharp contrast with large parts of the U.S., where there has been substantial resistance to reopening schools. Teachers unions in affluent Fairfax, Virginia, recently petitioned for the district's schools to remain closed for the entire 2020–21 school year. Last week, hundreds of teachers held a sick-out in Idaho's largest school district, protesting plans to bring kids back to classrooms. 

Many political leaders have demonstrated the same extreme reluctance to resume in-person learning. Two weeks ago, following an uptick in Boston's positive test rate, Mayor Marty Walsh announced that all city schools would halt in-person learning. Earlier in October, just days after in-person classes recommenced, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered 124 public schools to shut in New York City COVID-19 hotspots while allowing bars and restaurants to remain open. 

This reluctance has by no means been unanimous. In July, the Florida Department of Education ordered public schools to reopen by the end of August. Scientists, Gov. Ron DeSantis explained, are "just not finding the kids to be major vectors" of disease spread. He also called the school closures "one of the biggest public health mistakes in modern American history."

For proponents of reopening, the benefits of in-person learning are straightforward: for kids, greater learning and less social isolation; for parents, a greater ability to work. Data from D.C.'s public schools, for example, show an 11 percentage point decline in the fraction of kindergarten students meeting literacy targets. And one economist estimates that school closures drove 1.6 million mothers from the labor force by September. Both factors are particularly relevant for younger children, who are more likely to struggle with online learning and to require supervision if at home.

Meanwhile, opponents argue that reopening schools will spread the disease further: 7-year-olds, not known for being proficient in social distancing, will transmit the virus among themselves and then infect their teachers and families. As a result, they say, we could see large numbers of dead children, teachers, and grandmas. In location after location teachers unions insist they want to resume in-person learning, but insist that doing so just is not safe.

Fortunately, more than nine months into the pandemic, evidence is now available to litigate many of these disputes. For example, it has been clear for months that COVID-19 poses a low mortality risk for children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just 80 American kids under age 15 are known to have died from COVID-19. (In the same time period, around 19,000 have died from other causes.)

In Florida, which provides extremely detailed data on COVID-19 infections, there have been 5 deaths from more than 48,000 known cases in this age group, a case fatality rate of approximately 0.01 percent. (The infection mortality rate,  including undetected cases, is likely substantially lower.) Kids are at a much greater risk during a typical flu season, and obviously society does not think about shutting down schools then.

The far more relevant risk of reopening schools is that kids would spread it to older teachers and family members, who are much more susceptible to COVID-19. In recent weeks, we've gotten valuable data on this from states like Florida, where large numbers of schools have been open since mid-August, allowing plentiful opportunity for rampant spread to occur if it is likely to do so.

Florida releases two datasets that are useful for our purposes. The first is the daily case line data—data on every individual in Florida who has tested positive from a PCR or antigen test, including info on age, race, county, date of infection, and whether the patient ultimately is hospitalized or dies. Second: Since the academic year began, Florida has been releasing data on cases associated with schools, covering any student, teacher, or staff member who tests positive.

It turns out there has not been an explosion in cases among school-aged kids since reopening. In fact, comparing September and October against August, when schools had only just begun to reopen, the daily number of detected cases in children ages 5 to 17 has fallen by 33 percent. Cases across all age groups have also fallen sharply—by 40%—over the same period, so to be conservative we can instead look at cases among children as a share of all detected cases. Measured this way, there has been a relative increase in cases among children, but only a very muted one; the share of detected cases involving school-aged children has risen from 7.6 percent to 8.6 percent. (You might wonder whether an increase of this magnitude might be driven by increased testing of children since schools reopened. While this seems possible, a similar relative increase has occurred in the share of children among people hospitalized with COVID-19.) Further, by looking at each age specifically, a consistent pattern arises: The increase in cases is particularly small for elementary-school-aged children and largest for those in late high school.

Since colleges have observed substantial outbreaks while minimal spread has been linked to child care centers, this variation by age seems unsurprising. While it was never realistic to hope that schools would be magically immune from spreading the virus entirely, these numbers strongly suggest that schools aren't driving substantial spread, especially among younger children.

What about the data on COVID-19 cases in schools? Excluding universities and colleges, slightly more than 7,400 students, teachers, and staffers tested positive from September 6 to October 24. At first glance, it is not immediately apparent whether this is evidence for or against the idea that schools drive spread. After all, there are more than a million school-aged children in Florida, and these data don't separate people who caught the virus at school from those infected elsewhere.

But if schools are driving spread, those 7,400 cases should be concentrated in a small number of schools, many of which should have large numbers of cases. For example, if five schools have 500 cases each, while most schools have zero cases, this would suggest that a lot of in-school transmission is occurring (unless there is some other explanation—for example, if those schools happen to be in counties with extremely high infection rates). Conversely, if within-school spread is rare, those 7,400 cases should be spread over a large number of schools, each with very few cases (with children largely being infected outside of school, and not spreading it much while at school, thus producing few large clusters).

Which do we see? Among schools that have at least one case, the average elementary school has only 2.17 cases. For middle and high schools, the numbers are 2.76 and 5.55 cases, respectively. Of the institutions that reported at least one case over this seven-week period, 45 percent of elementary schools and 37 percent of middle schools have no other cases recorded; 95 percent and 89 percent, respectively, have five or fewer cases. Even allowing for undercounting due to non-comprehensive testing, it is very difficult to square this with substantial spread at elementary and middle schools. And while high schools are reporting more cases per school, some of this is presumably due to them typically having more students. 

The data also provide insight on whether students are infecting teachers in substantial numbers. Looking at schools with at least one student case, only 17.6 percent have any recorded teacher cases over the entire seven-week sample, with little variation by student age. This is strikingly low—and it almost certainly overestimates the risk teachers face, because it includes cases where the teacher was infected before the student and cases where the infections occurred many weeks apart. Common sense also suggests that undercounting is likely to be a less relevant factor: Even if kids are not being tested much, teachers are likely being more vigilant about being tested, especially once a positive case has been announced in their school community. 

The experience in Florida adds to a growing mound of evidence—not just in the U.S. but in places as far-flung as Iceland, Australia, and Singapore—that young children are rarely superspreaders. Policy makers should remember the substantial harms of keeping schools shut, and the minimal disease spread that schools (especially elementary and middle schools) appear to be causing.

NEXT: In Texas, Wearing the Wrong Thing to the Polls Could Land You in Jail

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  1. Better to remove the kids from public school altogether. If it attempted a mission of real education and not indoctrination I might be convinced but today it’s nonsense to put your kid in that leftism factory just for your convenience of day care.

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    2. But where else will kids learn to inform on their parents for the new Watermelon Regime?

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      2. Or that the Earth is dying and we have only 12 years left to save it?

    3. Never put your kids on a bus. Never get on a train.

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  3. You obviously want people to die, you monster. If keeping the schools closed saves just one life, well then that’s what science tells us we must do. No matter how many years it takes, we must not let up, we must not let people out.

    1. Especially a union dues-paying progressive hero of modern society life.

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  5. As I’ve been pointing out since mid March, the Democrats closure of schools (and businesses) was never based upon science, evidence or past public health practice.

    Rather, the Democrats’ lockdowns of schools and businesses (and their subsequent mask wearing mandates) were (and still are) intended to create/perpetuate a public panic and destroy the US economy in order to blame, demonize and defeat Trump.

  6. To protect the teachers, we should fire them all, and hire people who can read and think, and come to the scientific conclusion that the schools should be fully open.

  7. Sweden never shut down schools (or businesses), and hasn’t mandated mask wearing.

    And yet, Sweden’s daily Covid mortality rate has remained below 0.33 per million since July 30, and is now 0.21 per million.

    In sharp contrast, the daily Covid mortality rate in the US has ranged from 1.80 to 3.47 per million since May 26, and is now 2.51 per million.

    If the news media was truly objective, everyone in the US would know that the daily Covid death rate in the US has been more than ten times greater than Sweden’s for the past three months.

    https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus-data-explorer?zoomToSelection=true&time=2020-03-01..latest&country=USA~SWE~GBR~ITA~FRA~DEU&region=World&deathsMetric=true&interval=smoothed&perCapita=true&smoothing=7&pickerMetric=population&pickerSort=desc

    1. But as documented by Duffy in Why We’re Wrong about Nearly Everything, Swedes stand out as end members in other ways. They are significantly less wrong about common social issues, and are also less emotional. Compared to idiot Americans (and people of other nations) they are Vulcans.

      So it might be true that letting Americans take care of themselves might be more like giving power tools to toddlers, or beer and dynamite to middle schoolers.

      1. So you’re saying we should let Americans take care of themselves and the problem will solve itself?

    2. Sweden did close high schools and restricted large gatherings, but otherwise you’re spot on.

  8. It’s gotten pretty obvious that teachers really like getting paid for doing little or nothing, and will ride the “protect the kids“ horse as far as they can.

    “Integrity.” they say, “What’s that?”

    1. But if your kids aren’t going to the local school house to learn from the local teachers, why do you need with the school house or the teachers?

      If your kids are learning online anyway, skip the mediocre local teachers and find the best online teachers from around the world.

  9. Kids aren’t their priority.

    Like cattle at a ranch, there will be new kids next year after this year’s kids are sent off. The money is what matters.

  10. It is interesting that they are able to open their schools, but notice in the picture that the kids are wearing masks, and in this country that would never happen. If you want to reduce contacts you can close schools or close bars or reduces backyard parties. We know which way Americans go on this vs the French, and doesn’t that make you proud to be an American when you can see that as a nation we value our drinking habits and our mask conspiracies over education of the young?

    While I agree that schools should be non compulsory, and in many ways they are in the US if you know how to work it, I think you would be a fool to have your student blow off their education. Any science based/tech field really assumes a level of education that your student is unlikely to develop independently. But I believe in your right to make stupid decisions. When I went to school I studied a lot of science and math and in college I studied engineering. I remember being in class while plenty of my foolish classmates ran around chanting “No Blood for soil” (first Gulf War). Oh and as a teacher, I was never asked if the schools wanted to stay open or closed, and I certainly never thought it was a good idea to not lower the grades after the school closures and only allow increases In grades. A lot of high schools are going to pass all their students this semester, just like they did last semester, even if the students haven’t done anything, and if this does not concern you, I don’t think you really get how all this stuff is supposed to work.

    1. You should stop valuing numbers over people.

      And people are entitled to their own culture. That goes for Americans the same way it goes for every other cultural or ethnic or religious group.

  11. catch-22 the kiddies *might* catch coronavirus but will definitely have their brain sucked out.

  12. There was a teacher with a sign in the summer saying, ‘No openings until cases are zero’.

    Fancy way of saying, ‘we’re never opening’.

    The teachers aren’t following a stick of evidence. No with not opening. Not with sticking masks on faces of kids. Not wit formite transmission which is not a major source of spreading. Nothing they do is rooted in science.

    And here’s the terrible psychological dilemma they cornered themselves. None of these things are known to work but they did it and are deceived into thinking their ‘sanitizing’ measures work. A causation/correlation nightmare. They can in theory do this forever.

    Dumbasses.

  13. This is truly asinine, and deliberately so. Our schools in the North of Kansas City have been open all semester. Families were given the choice of online or in-person, and roughly 28% chose to stay home. There have been no outbreaks, no hospitalizations, and no deaths across an enormous suburban district. My children are miserable while at school, with constant masking, social separation, and hyper vigilance over distancing rules at lunch and recess, but ultimately, they’re better off there than at home.

    They are both currently quarantined, due to someone (I’m guessing an instructor) entering the classroom whilst infected, but there has been no reported transmission, while we stupidly keep them home, learning a substandard online curriculum.

    Open the schools. It’s as safe now as it was any year in the past 40. The damage you’re inflicting on their future social and academic development is FAR worse then the tiny risk they have of being harmed by this virus.

  14. I know all I have to go one for now (until late tonight at least) is flawed polling, but I’m shocked that the democrat closure of schools, the biggest fork in the eye that gubment has given to the average family in my lifetime, hasn’t produced an enormous backlash against the perpetrating party.

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  16. I am not a fan of homeschooling, but it seems to me that it takes a long time to understand that the quality of education will deteriorate. Unfortunately, the material base of not all students is at a high level. The state should support families and provide access to distance learning technologies. This is especially important during the examination period. Nowadays, many students prefer to use https://essayexaminer.com/ for writing help and receive thematic works. Developing such services would be a good thing for the state and would help improve the educational business as a whole.

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