Opening schools

This is what I have found. I live in Wisconsin. Bars and restaurants wide open. My schools have been virtual since March. Church too. I do very little. Still, cases are skyrocketing because of what other people are doing. We all live together.

Coincidentally, two of my kids’ teachers got Covid anyway, despite virtual schools. They have both recovered.

Schools that opened around here are now closing back up. Hard to have schools open when all your staff are sick.

In a move that seems to make a ton of sense. My county is closing all high and middle schools while leaving the elementary schools open. The older kids are both more likely to get sick and more likely to get others sick while also more capable or remote learning than the young kids.

My kids private school isn’t closing for any age group though they don’t do high school but they are requiring all students to get a COVID test 5 days after Thanksgiving and a second one 5 days later is the first is positive. Thanksgiving break is being extended for a week to everyone can get tested and back home for a week prior to going back to school. They are planning to do the same thing after christmas.

Ok, I misunderstood. I don’t think we are substantially disagreeing. I just want to hear the Democrats have an honest conversation about how much risk we are willing to take to open schools. The answer can’t be “none”. We have to accept some amount of risk (by which I, unfortunately, mean some amount of additional cases and death).

A big part of the difficulty of having this conversation is that we still have a hard time quantifying the risk. Much of what we think we know is vague. Young kids appear to be less risk to the community than older kids. How much less?

The risk also isn’t spread evenly. Let’s just pretend that elementary age kids have a 1% chance of catching it at school, and a 20% chance of spreading it to their parents if they do. You might think of that much differently if you’re a 32 year old parent with no risk factors versus a 52 year old parent who is overweight and has asthma. You also might think of it differently if you know you’ll loose your job or income if you have to quarantine because your kid gets sick, or if you’ll be able to work from home and take sick leave.

We have good ideas of the rate of traffic fatalities. Last year the risk factors involved make a decision between driving 1000 miles to Thanksgiving or flying were pretty quantifiable. We just aren’t there yet with Covid-19.

So having a discussion about what amount of risk is acceptable sounds good, and is useful in many instances, but may just be a distraction when we don’t actually know the level of risk. Let’s say we decide it is OK to open schools when kids have a 1% chance of catching Covid-19 at school. When is that?

One of my articles right above is an elementary school being forced to close. Maybe grade schoolers are lower risk, but it didn’t stop this school from running out of teachers that weren’t sick.

I guess I feel like having that discussion is like standing in a blurring house arguing about under what circumstances is it safe to leave the oven on. Right now, the conversation needs to be, given that everything else is open and gatherings are occurring, is it safe to have schools open?

That’s so crazy.

But school closings are a local decision made by people who aren’t going to lose their jobs if the schools close. Rules for bars are mostly made by governors, but they surely are influenced by bar owners who point out that they will lose their business (quite possible forever) if they are forced to close.

We don’t have the infrastructure for the government to pay the lease for the bar’s venue. There is nothing the governor can do between killing lots of popular small businesses and leaving them open with regulations that do nearly nothing.

The CDC removed guidance pushing for school reopenings. The guidance still seems murky. They say that the guidance reflected the information at the time and was not updated to reflect that children can become infected and clearly can transmit.

Sorry for the long quote, but I wanted to add the part that notes that the WHO website notes that there have been few outbreaks involving children or schools and that the authors of the article contend that the data increasingly suggests that schools are not hot spots for covid-19 infection.

The article is confusing in tone to me.

Another good article on the relative safety of in-person teaching.

Can you summarize? It’s paywalled.

I can. In summary, she screwed up.

She doesn’t actually show her math, but she made the mistake of linking to the data that she uses. I’ll note that she claims to be using four weeks of data, both outside and inside of school to do the comparison. While she might very well do that for outside, for schools her data shows two weeks, at least according to the data itself. Therefore we’re already off to a shaky start. As for the rest, this quote was key to me:

This side-by-side comparison of the New York data focuses on the period between Oct. 12 and Nov. 6. For clarity, I’ve divided all Zip codes in the state — 1,071 total — into six “buckets,” based on the prevalence of covid-19 in those communities. The lowest bucket includes all Zip codes with fewer than three covid cases per 100,000 people; the highest includes Zip codes with 20 or more cases per 100,000 people; the rest are distributed in between.

To plot each bucket along the x-axis, I calculated the population-weighted average of covid cases within each grouping. For example, the average for the lowest bucket is two cases per 100,000 people; for the highest, it is 28 cases per 100,000 people.

So we have a baseline known case rate for the general population of 0.0280% for the WORST areas

Using the data that she so helpfully linked to, we get the following data (remember, this appears to be just two weeks worth, so the truth could be twice as bad).

Known student cases of all schools: 936
In-person enrollment (remember, most schools are hybrid, so many kids aren’t in class): 1,329,362

We have a known case rate of 0.0704% which is over twice the rate of the WORST performing bucket in the general population.

Let’s pretend that all students are in school (the data shows total enrollment so why the hell not): 2,422,891 for a case rate of 0.0386%. That is still far larger than the WORST performing bucket in the general population.

Her methods appear flawed in many other ways, but once that schools are performing far worse than the worst hit areas in general, I stopped digging.

Sorry. Here’s another article, hopefully accessible.

Since that article appears to use the previously linked article as its primary source, I stopped reading pretty quickly. Did you see a flaw in my analysis of the previous link (which is certainly possible) or are you just going to throw links at us in hopes that we stop responding?

Report from from UNICEF looking at school closings around the world:

“Evidence shows the net benefits of keeping schools open outweigh the negatives.” They cite this paper from Insights for Education when making that statement:

Well, I get the impression I will soon see a few people tell us what a bunch of idiots UNICEF are. Lol.

The Washington Post article is an opinion piece by economist Emily Oster.


  • NYC has decided to close its schools. There is controversy if schools are a significant source of spread. Some schools seem to have a significant rate of infection.

  • The author argues infection rates in schools mirror those in its surrounding community. So efforts should be placed on limiting community spread.

  • The author believes there is a disconnect between “schools aren’t superspreaders” and some schools objectively showing positive tests for Covid.

  • These can coexist because of the way schools measure cases.

  • Viruses detected in schools do not measure where cases were actually acquired - in school, in church, at a gathering etc.

  • If one assumes tests in schools would be the same as tests in stores or parks or anywhere else, the author believes there should be cause for concern if the infection rates among staff and students are higher than the surrounding community.

  • To determine if schools are superspreaders, it would be ideal to compare the rate of infection in the school with the local community.

  • The author divides the 1071 NYC zip codes into six categories based on the number of cases per 100k residents. The lowest group is <3 cases per 100k, the highest of six groups >20 cases per 100k. These six cohorts are plotted on an x-axis.

  • The number of cases in schools, in each of the six groups, were found. These cases were also divided into elementary (and middle school), high school, and faculty and staff. The average infection rate of these three populations forms the y-axis. This study considers what happened from Oct.12 to Nov.6 only.

  • Plotting shows that for high school students and staff, the infection rate mirrors that in their surrounding community. For elementary students, the rate is lower than the surrounding community.

  • Schools with more minorities tend to have more cases, but so do the surrounding communities. Again, elementary schools seem to have a lower rate than the surrounding community, but high schools and faculty have similar rates to the surrounding community.

  • 80% of schools has no Covid cases. Of the 20% that did - 87% had one (65%) or two (22%) cases. 7.5% had 3 cases, 4.5% had 4-6 cases, 1% had 7 or more cases.

  • The author believes that the focus should be on community spread, and that closing schools will not in general control community spread. This, the author believes NYC is making an error by closing schools because community rates are rising, not because of evidence schools are the main cause of spreading.

There is a lot of original data provided. I don’t know if they provided all of it. I didn’t go through it, and am not about to now. I don’t see anything wrong with dividing into cohorts or type of student or faculty. If there are errors one might communicate them to the NYT or Atlantic, who should be checking the numbers. The claims make sense to me.

Did you see my post at all? I don’t need a summary. I broke down the actual numbers from the data that she uses. Her data shows that it is more dangerous to go to school than it is to be a member of the general population in the areas with the highest community spread. She somehow neglects to mention that in the article.