More Evidence Suggests In-Person School is Safe, as Long as Virus Is Controlled | Education News

Reopening schools for in-person learning did not result in an increase in coronavirus hospitalizations as long as hospitalization rates in the community were low at the time of reopening, according to the latest study to wade into the controversial K-12 reopening debate.

The study – conducted by researchers at the National Center for Research on Education Access and Choice, a school choice advocacy, policy and research organization run out of Tulane University – seems to bolster the emerging narrative that the benefits of getting children back into the classroom outweigh the risks as long as infection rates are relatively low and schools are vigilant about mask-wearing, social distancing and sanitization.

Notably, the study is the first to examine how reopening schools in person has affected COVID-19 health outcomes as opposed to positivity rates.

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“It appears that, when hospitalizations rates are low, it is safe to reopen schools in-person,” said Doug Harris, study co-author and director of the research center. “This conclusion is consistent across a wide range of data and research methods. This is important given the side effects of closure for students, such as limiting access to essential services, social isolation, and learning loss.”

Researchers combined data on school district reopening plans with information on coronavirus-related hospitalizations from the company Change Healthcare, which has health care claims for 170 million people, as well as data from the Department of Health and Human Services that includes nearly every hospital in the U.S.

They found no evidence that reopening schools in-person or in a hybrid form increased COVID-19 hospitalizations in the 75{c25493dcd731343503a084f08c3848bd69f9f2f05db01633325a3fd40d9cc7a1} of counties that had low coronavirus hospitalization rates during the summer, prior to reopening schools. Specifically, they conclude that it “seems safe to reopen schools” when there are no more than 36 to 44 total new COVID-19 hospitalizations per 100,000 people per week.

However, for counties that had higher rates of hospitalizations before schools reopening, the study’s results were inconsistent and thus inconclusive.

“Given the spike in hospitalizations in recent months, policymakers should be cautious,” Engy Ziedan, a health care economist at Tulane and co-author of the study, said.

“It may not be safe to reopen schools where the virus is already widespread,” she said, adding that keeping teachers and school staff in high-risk categories out of school also remains important.

That particular finding mirrors findings from other studies that conclude reopening school for in-person learning doesn’t increase positivity rates so long as the community’s infections rates are low to begin with – a monster condition given that infection rates and hospitalization rates are spiking around the country and that many school districts lack the necessary resources to provide masks to staff and students, establish sanitization stations, reconfigure classrooms for social distancing and establish rigorous testing and contact tracing systems.

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