More evidence is emerging on the role of in-person K-12 schooling in COVID-19 community spread. While it is important to interpret these findings in conjunction with other studies on the contribution of schooling mode to COVID-19 health metrics in and around schools, it is also worth noting that the context has changed substantially since the period under study in the existing evidence.
In-Person Schooling and COVID-19 Spread
In one study, released in April as a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, the authors explore the effect of weekly visits to schools on COVID-19 diagnoses in households with school-age children as compared to households with no school-age children. Weekly visits to schools are measured using Safegraph mobile phone tracking data, so in contrast to prior work that relied on policy variation in school reopening, this study uses data on actual mobility. The researchers find that more in-person visits to schools in a county in a given week correspond to more COVID-19 cases in households with children than in households without children, but the differences are small. The relationship is stronger in poorer counties, in counties with higher levels of circulating COVID-19, and later in the progression of the pandemic (or their timeframe of analysis, which is the first 46 weeks of 2020).
Another recently released NBER working paper uses data from Texas to assess the role of school reopenings in COVID-19 spread. The authors collected school start dates and instructional modes for all Texas school districts and match that data to county-level data on COVID-19 cases and deaths. They find that school reopenings did contribute to community spread in a gradual, but substantial way. The researchers also use Safegraph mobility data to confirm that in-person schooling corresponds to other more mobile behaviors among adults, such as work outside the home and other outside-of-home activities. As Texas reopenings occurred in the context of high community spread without provisions for reduced capacity, this work is consistent with other evidence suggesting that in-person schooling facilitates COVID-19 spread when existing disease prevalence is high and in the absence of mitigation measures.