Creating a Dashboard to Monitor the Reopening of Schools: The Baseline
COVID-19 School Reopening PDF
Keyworth, R., & States, J. (2020). Creating a Dashboard to Monitor the Reopening of Schools: The Baseline. Oakland, CA: The Wing Institute. https://www.winginstitute.org/covid-19-impact.
In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, States will soon reopen most, if not all, of their 138,000 K-12 schools and 55 million students will return to the classroom. This will be done at a time when there is significant uncertainty as to the impact Covid-19 will have on the health of students and education staff. There is much unknown regarding how the Covid-19 virus affects children, how contagious they might be, and how effective the various hygiene and social distancing prevention strategies will be. The same is true for the health of education staff, who will be trying to implement prevention protocols with large numbers of children in small spaces. And ultimately, there is the question of how effective education will be in the context of different schedules, models, distractions, potential school closures, and remote learning.
Given this level of uncertainty, it is critical to track data that will help schools identify problems quickly, assess their nature, and respond in timely and effective ways to safeguard the health of students and education staff while providing a quality education.
The Wing Institute is adding a new section to its Education System Dashboard that focuses on issues regarding the reopening of schools under the Covid-19 pandemic. It will provide relevant, up-to-date research and data on a wide range of metrics, starting with the following:
- Student health (recent research; up-to-date data on Covid-19 exposure, infections, intensive care use, and deaths; socio emotional impacts)
- Staff health (recent research; up-to-date data on Covid-19 exposure, infections, intensive care use, and deaths; socio emotional impacts)
- School health (recent research; models; school openings; school closings)
- Student performance (student absenteeism; academic performance; social behavioral issues)
As most of the research is still in its early stage, and there is no data yet on the reopening schools, this analysis starts with a baseline of the information we have to date for I. student health and II. staff health.
DASHBOARD SECTION: STUDENT HEALTH
Research is still in the very early stages of understanding Covid-19’s impact on children, staff and schools. Most of it is still in process, being peer reviewed, and/or waiting replication. Yet, once schools reopen, decisions will made every day about ways to protect children and staff. Schools will have to rely on the best available evidence, starting with the following fundamental questions:
Are children more or less susceptible to contracting Covid-19 than adults?
One of the first studies did a systematic review and meta-analysis of over 6,000 studies and concluded that children under 18-20 had 56% lower odds than adults of catching coronavirus from an infected person. (1) Another study found that children were about one third as susceptible to the Covid-19 virus as adults, It also concluded that children in school had about three times as many contacts as adults with three times as many opportunities to become infected, which essentially evens out the odds.
How easily can children transmit the virus to others?
There is still very little data on whether or not children can spread the virus the same as adults. One study examined the “viral loads” of children and found that children who tested positive have just as much virus as adults do and presumably are just as infectious. This was also true for children who were asymptomatic. Much more research is required to answer this question.
What other symptoms and illnesses are associated with Covid-10 in children?
Initial research suggests that the Covid-19 symptoms are milder with children than with adults. Yet there are also signs that some children may be exhibiting more serious illnesses that are Covid-19 related. Recently several children have been diagnosed with pediatric multisystem inflammatory condition with some similar features to those of Kawasaki disease and toxic shock syndrome. There is some evidence that this illness is related to Covid-19 infections.
Given the speed with which Covid-19 has spread, we don’t have complete data on critical health issues for children. And, as schools have not yet reopened, we have no data on student health once they are in classrooms. Given the severe nature of the Covid-19 threat, we must go with the best available data.
This dashboard section will track the number of student Covid-19 cases, cases needing intensive care services, and deaths. To date, the numbers of children in each category is very small. Much of this is the result of underreported data. It is believed that many children with primary COVID infection were never diagnosed because, until recently, only sick people were getting tested.
As with counting the number of adult Covid-19 cases, there is great discrepancy between children’s cases reported and cases projected by various public health models. The consensus is that it is the result of underreported data. Many children with primary COVID infection were never diagnosed because, until recently, only sick people were getting tested. The number of cases reported by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and those by public health modeling differ by a factor of ten or more. On April 2,, 2020, CDC reported just over 2,500 cases. One public health model projected over 150,000 cases at that date. This model projected there are likely over 900,000 children as of May 25, 2020, of 1.3% of all children. Both models show the number of cases increasing over time.
Baseline data for children who have required intensive care unit services is much more accurate, as is that with the number of children who have died. Both totals are low; 391 children required intensive care services and 35 children have died. But both show steep trend lines upwards.
DASHBOARD SECTION: STAFF HEALTH
Baseline Research: Staff
There is no research as of yet on the impact of Covid-19 on the health of teachers (or other education staff) in the classroom setting. Yet, we do have data that suggest teachers may be at a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 due their age, the challenges of social distancing, and the hands-on nature of their jobs.
The available epidemiological data suggests a person’s age is one of the predictors of high risk with the virus. The risk of severe illness requiring hospitalization jumps significantly with people ages fifty and older. CDC data shows a jump of almost 300% (37.2 to 105.9) between adults 18-49 and those who are 50-64. The percentage of individuals who die from the virus also makes a large jump (650%) once someone is in the 45-64 age range
The challenge is that a significant percent of teachers and school principals are in this higher risk age range. Over 29% of teachers are 50 years or older, including 17.6% who are 55 and over. Principals face the same risks, with 37.8% of their ranks ages 45-54 and 27% who are 55 and over. This means that a significant part of the school staff is already more at rick due to their age. To the degree that schools turn out to be high risk environments, could be catastrophic.
In addition to age demographics, the very nature of the teaching job increases the risk of exposure. The first risk involves high levels of social contact. Despite recommended protocols for social distancing by teachers, high levels of social contact with students are inevitable. Pre-Covid-19 research showed that teachers have significantly more contacts on a working day than the national average. For example a teacher in a normal working day will have at least 50% more contact hours than either unemployed or retired people. The degree to which social distancing in the classroom will reduce these levels is yet to be seen.
And finally, and classrooms tend to be full of germs. One study examined the desks, computers and phones from various professions and found that teachers had six times more germs in their workspace than accountants, the second-place finisher. The high sample rate for germs may or may not be the same issue once schools reopen, and dramatic hygiene protocols are in place, but as a baseline, it gives one pause for concern.
Baseline Data: Staff
Until the schools reopen, we will not have data on how well the Covid-19 protocols are working with either students or staff in U.S. school settings.
The United States is about to embark upon a very high stakes strategy towards reopening schools. As one superintendent stated, it is an “impossible balancing act”. Opening schools has inherent risks to students, staff and families. Not opening schools also has risks as children benefit from the socio-emotional and academic structure schools provide. Virtually all of our actions in trying to get back to normalcy in the Covid-19 pandemic will require a constant attention to data on what is working and what is not. It will allow us to make course corrections quickly and with some level of confidence. The systems dashboard is one example of what can be used to track progress. But it is at the individual school level where data can make the most difference. The journey is going to be a balancing act for a long time.