School COVID spread remains low, dashboard shows

'People are being really careful in schools in ways that they're not when they're just out a barbecue'
By: | October 9, 2020
Students attending school in-person tested positive for COVID at a rate of just .14%; for teachers, the rate was .25%, a dashboard shows. (GettyImages/RichVintage)Students attending school in-person tested positive for COVID at a rate of just .14%; for teachers, the rate was .25%, a dashboard shows. (GettyImages/RichVintage)

Classroom transmission of COVID remains uncommon and continues to fall below the rates in surrounding communities, according to a dashboard tracking about 1,100 schools.

Another interesting finding: the rate of teacher infection is nearly identical for in-person and for online learning, says Emily Oster, an economic professor at Brown University who launched the dashboard last month.

“People are being really careful in schools in ways that they’re not when they’re just out at a barbecue,” Oster says.

The data, which is provided by public and private schools in nearly every state, covers about 600,000 students. As of the end of September, students tested positive at a rate of just .14%; for teachers, the rate was .25%. Oster says.


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Elementary schools had slightly lower rates than high schools, while private schools saw fewer transmissions than public schools, she says.

There may be two explanations for the similarity in transmission rates for in-person and online teachers.

One is simply that transmission rates in schools are very low, Oster says.

The other is that teachers who get infected appear to be spreading COVID to each other rather than getting the virus from students. It may indicate that teachers are being far more careful around students in classrooms than they are being around colleagues, Oster says.

“Teachers are in staff rooms and having lunch together,” Oster says. “They’re being careful around kids, but they’re not afraid of other adults even though there’s just as much risk there.”


DA’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on K-12.