Gloomy Forecasts of 'Super-Spreader' Schools Shot Down by Hard Data

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Reopening schools have not become the coronavirus super-spreaders that officials feared, according to Brown University economist Emily Oster.

“It’s now October,” Oster wrote in an Atlantic Op-Ed.

“We are starting to get an evidence-based picture of how school reopenings and remote learning are going … and the evidence is pointing in one direction. Schools do not, in fact, appear to be major spreaders of COVID-19.”

Oster wrote that she has been collecting data on 200,000 schoolchildren in 47 states in collaboration with data scientists at the technology company Qualtrics.

This data, which is from the last two weeks of September, found that students had an infection rate of 0.13 percent and staff had an infection rate of 0.24 percent.

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“That’s about 1.3 infections over two weeks in a school of 1,000 kids, or 2.2 infections over two weeks in a group of 1,000 staff,” Oster wrote.

“Even in high-risk areas of the country, the student rates were well under half a percent.”

Oster pointed out that other data show low infection rates as well, with Texas reporting 1,490 student cases out of an estimated 1,080,317 students — a rate of only 0.14 percent. Reported staff cases were at 0.10 percent, she said.

“These numbers are not zero, which for some people means the numbers are not good enough,” she wrote.

“But zero was never a realistic expectation. We know that children can get COVID-19, even if they do tend to have less serious cases. Even if there were no spread in schools, we’d see some cases, because students and teachers can contract the disease off campus. But the numbers are small — smaller than what many had [forecast].”

“One might argue, again, that any risk is too great, and that schools must be completely safe before local governments move to reopen them,” she continued, adding that this “approach ignores the enormous costs to children from closed schools.”

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