Early evidence shows Covid-19 outbreaks not spreading in US schools as feared: Experts – Times of India


WASHINGTON: As schools across the US opened last month, public health experts have found little evidence that the coronavirus is spreading inside institutions despite thousands of students and teachers contracting the infection.

According to experts, the early evidence states that opening schools may not be as risky as many have feared even as rates of infection inside the buildings have been far below as compared to surrounding areas, The Washington Post reported.

“Everyone had a fear there would be explosive outbreaks of transmission in the schools. In colleges, there have been. We have to say that, to date, we have not seen those in the younger kids, and that is a really important observation,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

However, this does not mean that there is zero risks of contracting the coronavirus. Experts do not have a full scenario of the situation due to inconsistent reporting in many parts of the country and most schools have only opened in the last few weeks.

Several schools in most of the US’ largest districts reopened with full remote teaching and hence the data are largely from smaller communities. The coronavirus pandemic could even get worse with the flu season and winter approaching.

Researchers at Brown University, working in collaboration with school administrators, released their first set of data on Wednesday from a new National Covid-19 School Response Data Dashboard, created to keep a tab on cases of the virus. The result was — low levels of infection among teachers and students.

While tracking infections during a two-week period beginning from August 31, just 0.23 per cent of students had a confirmed or suspected Covid-19 case. Among the teachers, it was 0.49 per cent. For confirmed cases, the rates were even lower — 0.078 per cent for students and 0.15 per cent for teachers, according to The Washington Post.

“These numbers will be, for some people, reassuring and suggest that school openings may be less risky than they expected,” said Emily Oster, an economics professor at Brown University who helped create the tracker.

However, she said, “I do not think that these numbers say all places should open schools with no restrictions or anything that comes close to that. Ultimately, school districts are going to have different attitudes toward risk.”

The Network for Public Education, a non-profit advocacy organisation that supports traditional public school districts, has been tracking 37 school districts in Connecticut, New York and Pennsylvania.

Ever since schools resumed, only 23 confirmed Covid-19 cases have been reported across 20 schools and there is no indication that the virus was spreading in the premises, according to Carol Burris, the network’s executive director.

The districts studied were in counties having low cases of the infection and all required wearing masks. “So far, in the schools that we are following … outbreaks have not occurred, even when someone tests positive for Covid-19,” Burris said.

“We are not seeing schools as crucibles for onward transmission. It is reasonable to say that it looks promising at this point,” said Sara Johnson, associate professor of paediatrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

As many as 14 active teachers, principals and counsellors have died of Covid-19 since the beginning of the school year, although it is yet to be concluded that anyone of them contracted the virus at school, said American Federation of Teachers.

Some experts, including teachers’ union officials, have said Covid-19 cases are believed to be lower in school districts where face masks are mandatory and police deployed to ensure social distancing between students and teachers in the building, although there is little data to prove the correlation.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said the “science worked” in districts that took adequate precautions, The Washington Post reported.

“We do not have all the information which is true, but I am not surprised that things were okay,” she was quoted as saying.





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