Early data suggests low risk of potential coronavirus transmission in schools: Report

Brown University found coronavirus infection rates in students and teachers over a two-week period beginning Aug. 31 were 0.075% and 0.15%, respectively.

Despite colleges campuses throughout the country struggling with coronavirus outbreaks in recent weeks, new early data suggests that the situation may be less severe for younger students and their teachers, according to a report by the Washington Post.

Researchers at Brown University released their first set of data Wednesday from the college's new National COVID-19 School Response Data Dashboard, which has been created in partnership with school administrators across the nation to track coronavirus cases among students and teachers.

The researchers found that during a two-week period beginning Aug. 31, about 0.22 percent of students and 0.51 percent of teachers had a confirmed or suspected case of the coronavirus. The rates were even lower when looking solely at confirmed cases at 0.075 percent for students and 0.15 percent for teachers.

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Emily Oster, an economics professor at Brown University who helped create the tracker, told the Post that the numbers are "reassuring and suggest that school openings may be less risky than they expected.”

“I don’t think that these numbers say all places should open schools with no restrictions or anything that comes close to that," Oster added. "Ultimately, school districts are going to have different attitudes toward risk.”

The information from the dashboard is voluntarily reported by schools and school districts, both public and private, including those that offer in-person classes, a hybrid learning model or are remote.

As of Wednesday evening, the dashboard had data from roughly 570 schools, including more than 300 that have some in-person classes.

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The Post noted that additional early data in Texas and the Northeast are signaling optimism as well.

According to data released last week, about 2,350 students who were found positive for the coronavirus — or about 0.21 percent of the 1.1 million students attending school in person. The Post noted that an additional 2,175 school employees tested positive, although a rate could not be calculated because it was not clear how many of the state’s more than 800,000 school staff members were working in school buildings.

Meanwhile, the Network for Public Education, a nonprofit advocacy organization that supports traditional public school districts, has been tracking 37 school districts in Connecticut, New York and Pennsylvania.

The network's executive director, Carol Burris told the Post that since school started, there have been just 23 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in 20 schools and no indication that the virus was spread in schools.

“So far, in the schools that we are following . . . outbreaks have not occurred, even when someone tests positive for COVID-19,” Burris said.

The districts studied were in counties with low coronavirus rates and all required wearing masks.

While acknowledging the early data looks promising, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine associate professor of pediatrics Sara Johnson says schools should still bring students and teachers back “slowly and carefully” and with safeguards put in place for protection such as masks and social distancing measures.

“These data are promising but COVID is still a very big threat to people,” she told the Post.

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The findings come on the heels of an analysis by Science Magazine, which found that children and adolescents are at a “much lower risk” for the coronavirus than any other age group.

The analysis notes that assumptions that schoolchildren are a “key component” of the virus' transmission chain are “most likely not the case" and that it is "difficult to determine what benefit, if any, closing schools has over other interventions."

Researchers also warned that prolonged school closures can lead to increased health risks in children, which include a potential reemergence of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles because of disruptions to immunization programs and a potential increase in home injuries and mental health issues.

"In the event of seemingly inevitable future waves of COVID-19, there is likely to be further pressures to close schools," researchers added. "There is now an evidence base on which to make decisions, and school closure should be undertaken with trepidation given the indirect harms that they incur. Pandemic mitigation measures that affect children’s wellbeing should only happen if evidence exists that they help because there is plenty of evidence that they do harm."

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According to the latest update by Johns Hopkins University, there are more than 6.9 million confirmed cases in the United States and more than 200,000 related deaths.

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