Tens of millions of students started the school year completely online, including those in 13 of the 15 largest school districts in the U.S. The primary reason is concern over safety for students and staff. But recent data are shifting the discussion on school safety and infection rates of Covid-19. They argue strongly for opening K-12 schools.
Previous evidence has suggested that schools are not superspreaders. That research came from other countries (whose rates and environments are different) or very specific cases in America, such as YMCA summer camps. While this suggested little impact on infection rates from opening the schools, it was possible that the unique environment of U.S. public schools would cause different outcomes.
But they’re about the same. 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. 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.
Other 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 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. Yet we don’t shut down schools over the flu.
Read the full op-ed on The Wall Street Journal by David Henderson, a research fellow with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and Ryan Sullivan, an associate professor of economics at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.