Where should schools be 100% virtual right now?
We hear a lot about the CDC’s guidance for reopening schools safely, which is primarily based on transmission rates in the community for the preceding two weeks, both as positivity of labs and new cases per 100,000.
The idea behind the CDC's official advisement doc was a misguided assumption that school transmission rates would be lower than community transmission rates.
Cases have been reported in more than 6,000 school districts since August, and have been increasing dramatically throughout the last several weeks.
Now that schools have been open across the nation for months, maybe it’s time to reconsider those guidelines, or to at least make case rates inside the schools as much of a determinant as the case rates outside of them.
See the complete CDC guidelines here.
We calculated district-wide case rates for 3,775 school districts for this analysis, from only those districts reporting enrollment data (both total and face-to-face enrollment) and a minimum of two COVID-19 cases in their schools.
Fewer than 3% of open school districts reporting data have school case rates below 5 per 100,000.
That means 97% of school districts currently open and reporting cases do not fall into the “lowest risk” category for reopening schools.
If you filter the cases for students only enrolled in face-to-face instruction, only four districts have school-district case rates of fewer than 5 per 100,000. Four. Not four percent - four total districts. Three are in Virginia - a state that has made it difficult to track cases in schools, and the fourth is in Michigan.
The district with the highest case rate in the country? Glidden-Ralston Community School District in Iowa. With 393 students and staff on campus, the district has so far reported 51 student and staff cases. That comes out to be about one out of every eight people on Glidden-Ralston’s campus are or have recently been positive. 1 in 8.
Positivity in Carroll County, Iowa, which Glidden-Ralston shares with three other districts, was 28% last week (school rates will be updated for last week tomorrow). The case rate in Glidden-Ralston schools went up before the county case rates increased, though, and leaders would be smart to look to schools as a precursor to community case increases, rather than simply being the result of them.
Case rates in Montana, Idaho, and Utah schools have been high since September and have recently spiked. Cases in the south - Arkansas, Texas, and Florida - were never been below “moderate risk” after they reopened. More recently, Iowa, Indiana and other mid-western states have led the nation in active school cases.
So where are school case rates low? Generally where total school cases are low - states and regions that have yet to reopen face-to-face at all levels of learning, or are doing so slowly and carefully (California, Massachusetts, Michigan). Places more responsive to going remote after early detection of the virus are less likely to see large outbreaks, data show.
All of this begs the question: If community case rates are too high, and school case rates are even higher, based on the already conservative CDC guidelines, why all the push to reopen schools brick-and-mortar?
Why are economists driving the conversation about data they have no desire to understand? Why does the science again take a back seat to the politics and economics during this virus, when it should be driving both?
As to our headline question - Where should schools be 100% virtual right now?
Get all this data and more from our map and data site.