New study shows in-person schools did not increase COVID-19 hospitalizations in areas with low rates

Updated: Jan. 5, 2021 at 7:48 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A new Tulane Study finds in-person schooling has little effect on COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Just one day back from break Orleans Parish Schools announced kids would return to full virtual learning. Seleigh Taylor is an administrator with KIPP New Orleans. She is concerned for the parents that planned for their children to attend school in person. She said, “They set these things up to be successful and be there for their kids, and then we send them a curveball.”

Taylor said she wasn’t totally surprised with the news of skyrocketing numbers increased over the holidays but had hoped to stay open. She said, “Our school had very few positives, we had no spreads, we actually hadn’t quarantined any of our kids

Taylor said strict protocols and helping students understand the importance of safety outside of school worked to keep them on track.

A Tulane study by the school’s National Center for Research on Education Access and Choice (REACH) shows that may be the case in many places. Douglas Harris is a professor at Tulane and the REACH director. He said, “We weren’t just looking at the positivity rate because the testing for Covid is so erratic and infrequent but looking at hospitalizations we thought we could get a better more reliable measure, but also one really focused on what we care about is whether people get sick or not.”

The study followed hospitalization numbers in counties across the United States finding that places with low rates saw no difference in the weeks following in-person schools opening between August and October. Harris said, “That was really the initial reopening. That’s really where the data are most accurate, and we could see enough weeks after the reopening that we felt comfortable that the hospitalizations if they were increasing that we would see them.

In counties meeting the low rate with less than 44 new Covid related hospitalizations per 100, 000 people there was no difference in hospitalizations in counties before and in the weeks after schools open. Also, counties with similarly low rates that opened in person saw no rises compared to those that stayed closed or completely virtual during the period.

At the time 75% of counties met the low criteria set for the study. Surges across the country brought that number down to 58% as of January 5.

In areas with high hospitalization rates, the results were inconclusive.

Harris says the goal of the study isn’t to make hard and fast recommendations but to give school administrators as much information as possible to work with while making decisions. He said, “Because it’s a fluid environment and those things are changing over time, we are just trying to create some broad guidelines that then we can apply to those changing circumstances. We’re not saying go back to business as usual because we have to recognize that there is more social distance in school because some students are home and also remembering the social distancing policies and practices in the school are important to making this work safely.”

Data Taylor hopes helps get her kids back in class sooner and helps keep them there. She said, “So that they can get all the things they need because it is more than just an education that you get when you come to school each day.”

The state of Louisiana reports Region 1 that includes Orleans Parish reported 40 new Covid hospitalizations between Monday, January 4th and January 5th, 2020. The latest numbers tracked in the study are for two weeks prior, placing Orleans and St. Tammany in the safer zone. Orleans latest numbers show 18 new hospitalizations per 100,000 people per week and St. Tammany with 21. Jefferson would be in the high category with 48 new hospitalizations per 100,000 people.

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