Health: Concerns about In-Person Learning May Be Overstated

The Story:

For nearly a year now, there has been a good deal of debate in the United States, playing itself out on a town-by-town basis, over whether traditional schooling, with in-person learning in a brick-and-mortar structure, is consistent with public health in the age of Covid-19. A new study by researchers at Tulane University suggests that some of the worries about the epidemiological effect of in-person learning have been over-stated.


It is clear that closing schools comes with costs. Some students do not learn well in an online setting. For the families of others, online learning is itself a financial burden. Related to this: for some families that fact that their children will receive a good hot lunch at school is a valuable supplement to their own income. Another point: social isolation has psychological costs for a developing child. For all these reasons, “there is a pandemic” is not by itself a sufficient reason to close schools or keep them closed. Parents will want to know how much good the closing actually does for the cause of public health.

In Pill Form:

The Tulane paper distinguished between schools in counties (or parishes) with low levels of Covid hospitalizations, and schools in counties with higher levels, A low level is defined as no more than 36 to 44 total new Covid hospitalizations per 100,000 people per week. The study found that there is no evidence that the opening of schools increases hospitalization rates in counties where they have been low. New Orleans itself has low rates of hospitalization.

The lead researcher said that the team was not “making strong recommendations” about when schools should be re-opened, because they understand there are a lot of considerations at stake, but they do suggest that some of the concerns about re-openings are overstated in some circumstances.

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