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New data from Brown University says school COVID infection fears may be exaggerated

Data from a new tracking system that follows coronavirus outbreaks at the nation’s schools says that so far fears of massive outbreaks from kids going to school have been overblown.

Researchers at Brown University are cooperating with school districts around the country to gather information, and this week announced results from the first two weeks of school that show that fewer than 1 percent of students and staff have tested positive for COVID. For students, in fact, infection rates are under one-quarter of one percent.

The suspected and confirmed student infections rate through Sep. 13, according to Brown’s tracking dashboard, is just 0.22 percent while confirmed cases are just 0.075 percent. The staff rates are marginally higher at 0.50 percent suspected and confirmed rates, and with just 0.14 percent confirmed.  

The CDC reported that positive test rates for all testing across the country this week has dropped nearly ten percent.

“Nationally, the percentage of respiratory specimens testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 decreased from 5.2% during week 36 to 4.8%,” says the CDC website.

“These numbers will be, for some people, reassuring and suggest that school openings may be less risky than they expected,” said Emily Oster, an economics professor at Brown University who helped create the tracker.

“I do not think that these numbers say all places should open schools with no restrictions or anything that comes close to that. Ultimately, school districts are going to have different attitudes toward risk.”

Schools in Texas, Florida, Washington, New York and other localities have delayed opening schools over fears, mostly by teachers and union officials, of massive outbreaks of the coronavirus.

Last week, the American Federation of Teachers threatened to walk out on the opening of schools in New York City after teachers tested COVID positive at 0.1 percent rate, well below the national average even for teachers.

Similarly, teachers at Irvine Unified School district circulated a petition saying that opening schools for in-person instruction was fundamentally unsafe, says the LA Times.

“We will be jeopardizing the safety of students, staff, and families by resuming in-person instruction,” the petition states. And “the quality of hybrid, in-person instruction at the secondary level will be inferior to the distance learning model.”

At the beginning of the month, Democrat Presidential nominee Joe Biden blasted President Trump for not having a plan to deal with coronavirus in schools.

Biden called opening schools “a national emergency,” said CNN.   

President Trump has repeatedly demanded that school districts open for regular classroom teaching, saying coronavirus fears are overblown.

“By the way, open your schools. Everybody open your schools,” Trump said at a rally last week, noting that infection rates amongst children are much lower than among adults.

The comments ignited a firestorm of controversy.

But the data from Brown University so far shows that Trump is right and his critics are wrong.

PHOTO: iStockphoto

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