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Since the beginning of this pandemic, experts and educators have feared open schools would spread COVID-19, which is why so many remain closed. But a new study suggests that reopening schools may be safer than originally thought. NPR's Cory Turner has more.
CORY TURNER, BYLINE: Up to this point, researchers have focused largely on positivity rates - as in, did the rate of positive coronavirus tests among kids or communities increase after schools reopened? But researchers at Tulane University worried that testing in the U.S. is still too varied to give us reliable answers.
SUSAN HASSIG: But if you get infected with coronavirus and you become substantially ill, you're going to be hospitalized.
TURNER: Susan Hassig, a Tulane epidemiologist who worked on the study, says hospitalization rates may be a more reliable indicator of COVID spread. So mining a trove of national data from last year, she and her fellow researchers looked to see if more people ended up in the hospital after nearby schools reopened. They found two things, says Engy Ziedan, a Tulane economist on the team. First, for communities where hospitalization rates were already relatively low, as of mid-December, we're talking a little over half of all counties in the U.S....
ENGY ZIEDAN: When they opened in-person or hybrid mode, we did not see increases in hospitalizations post-reopening.
TURNER: In fact, in many places, hospitalizations appeared to go down - maybe because of rules and norms around social distancing and mask-wearing that kids may not be following at home. The other thing they found was that in communities where hospitalization rates were higher, the data was messy and inconclusive. Does that mean schools should stay closed in places with higher rates?
DOUGLAS HARRIS: In that category you're talking about, there are tradeoffs involved.
TURNER: Lead researcher Douglas Harris says all communities should weigh the risks of not reopening schools - risks to kids' mental health, child abuse going unreported, not to mention learning loss. Still, Harris insists...
HARRIS: We're not trying to make a forceful case that schools should open or not reopen. All we're trying to do is frame the decision.
TURNER: To make a little clearer the risks of reopening schools and of keeping them closed.
Cory Turner, NPR News.
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