Researchers very recently released two studies—both generating a lot of attention—providing new evidence on the role of in-person schooling in community spread of COVID-19. This emerging research advances our collective understanding of schools and COVID-19 spread as the most rigorous efforts to date to establish a causal link between school reopening mode and COVID measures. Both studies find similarly little to no relationship between in-person schooling and COVID-19 health outcomes at low pre-existing levels of community cases. With high community case rates, however, in-person schooling does contribute to increases in COVID-19 health measures.
- One report focuses on data from Michigan and Washington State. The authors explore the relationship between school district instructional modality (in-person, hybrid, or remote instruction) and case rates in the surrounding county with some slight differences in empirical approach by state. While the research team primarily relies on the seven-day average COVID-19 cases per 100,000 individuals as the outcome of interest, they also investigate impact of in-person schooling on the exponential COVID-19 growth rate and doubling time. Their estimates suggest little effect of in-person or hybrid schooling on community spread when rates in the county are low, but a positive effect of open schools on case rates in the presence of more substantial community spread.
- The other report uses national data on instructional modality in the vast majority of school districts across the United States. Because case rates embed features of the local testing regime and takeup, the authors look at COVID-19 hospitalizations as the outcome of schooling modality. They similarly find no effect of in-person schooling on subsequent hospitalizations in places with low existing rates of community infection. Conversely, they find that in-person schooling contributes to increased hospitalizations in counties with high case rates. Because of this finding, the research team created a searchable database of county-level hospitalization rates by week for readers to explore their local community’s situation relative to the threshold they investigate (fewer than 36 to 44 new COVID-19 hospitalizations per 100,000 in a county in a week).