Reopening schools to students might not cause the coronavirus to spread in some communities, particularly those where the hospitalization rate was already low, according to a new nationwide study from Tulane University.
“We're not trying to make a forceful case that schools should open or not reopen,” said lead researcher Douglas Harris, according to NPR. “All we're trying to do is frame the decision."
Tulane’s National Center for Research on Education Access and Choice, known as REACH, conducted a large-scale study to determine how reopening schools affected the spread of the coronavirus by focusing on hospitalization rates from 2020. Susan Hassig, a Tulane epidemiologist who worked on the study, noted that the hospitalization rate is a more reliable indicator of the virus’ spread since testing is limited and many infected people don’t display symptoms, but "if you get infected with coronavirus and you become substantially ill, you're going to become hospitalized."
Economist Engy Ziedan, who also took part in the study, noted that in areas where the hospitalization rate was low already, meaning less than 36 to 44 hospitalizations per 100,000 people, "when [schools] opened in-person or hybrid mode, we did not see increases in hospitalizations post-reopening."
The researchers note that 58% of all U.S. counties qualify as having a relatively low rate of hospitalizations, and that in many of these communities the number of hospitalizations seemed to decrease once schools were reopened.
However, some larger communities did appear to have an increased hospitalization rate after schools reopened, and for worse-off communities the results of the study were inconclusive, according to researchers.
This data also focused on the initial strain of the coronavirus, and not the new, more contagious strain that recently appeared in the U.S.
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