CDC: ‘Little evidence’ that in-person schooling contributes to community spread of COVID

As I mentioned earlier today, Chicago is trying to reopen schools and the teacher’s union is refusing, in what some see as tantamount to a strike. The official explanation for why teacher’s are doing this is fear of the pandemic, i.e. they don’t want to be required to come to work because that could put them at risk. But will it?

Today the CDC released a paper saying a survey of data shows “little evidence” that school are contributing to community transmission of the virus:

The CDC team reviewed data from studies in the United States and abroad and found the experience in schools different from nursing homes and high-density worksites where rapid spread has occurred.

“The preponderance of available evidence from the fall school semester has been reassuring,” wrote three CDC researchers in a viewpoint piece published online Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. “There has been little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission.”

In addition to this review of other studies from around the world, CDC researchers also released their own study today which looked at 17 schools in Wisconsin and came to the same conclusion:

“The conclusion here is with proper prevention efforts … we can keep transmission in schools and educational settings quite low,” said Margaret A Honein, the lead author of the JAMA report. “We didn’t know that at the beginning of the year but the data has really accumulated.”

She said that even in places with infection rates, there is no evidence that schools will transmit the virus at rates that are any higher than those seen in the general community and that they can operate safely as long as precautions are employed.

I wasn’t able to track down the full study involving Wisconsin schools but in searching for it I did come across another recent study based on schools in North Carolina. This study involved 11 school districts which had reopened for in-school learning. Over 9 weeks, more than 90,000 students and staff attended school in these 11 districts. The results were pretty striking [emphasis added]:

Across the 11 school districts, 773 community-acquired SARS-CoV-2 infections were documented by molecular testing; however, there were only 32 adjudicated cases of secondary transmission across the 11 districts combined in 9 weeks of instruction. Six districts had 0 secondary infections, 2 had 1 case, and 3 had multiple cases. There were 6 cases of secondary transmission in the pre-K setting; 11 in elementary schools, 6 in middle schools, 5 in high schools, and 4 in K–12 schools. There were no cases of child-to-adult within-school transmission.

The point here is that only a small handful of COVID cases were attributed to spread within schools. And none of those were child-to-adult transmission. So the fear that faculty will be infected by being around a bunch of students all day is not supported by the evidence. So long as students are distancing and wearing masks the risk appears negligible.

All of this matches with other data I wrote about here. A review of COVID transmission in New York schools found it was about the same or slightly lower than the rate of community transmission. In other words, schools do not add significant risk so long as appropriate precautions are taken. Here’s the graph the Post published back in November. The dashed line represents the rate of community spread. The dots represent the rate in schools.

The “party of science” is in charge nationally and locally in almost every case where large teacher’s unions, like the one in Chicago, are digging in their heels to avoid returning to schools. Democrats need to get these unions in line. There’s no reason not to be reopening schools. It’s clearly much better for the kids, who are currently struggling and months behind, and it’s no worse for the teachers.

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