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Meet the Brown University economist who argues that K-12 schools aren’t super-spreaders of the coronavirus

ICYMI: Rhode Island was up to 26,294 confirmed coronavirus cases on Friday, after adding 167 new cases. The most recent overall daily test-positive rate was 1.7 percent, but the first-time positive rate was 5.5 percent. The state announced three more deaths, bringing the total to 1,130. There were 112 people in the hospital.

Today is supposed to be the first day of full in-person learning for every public school in Rhode Island, but it’s still unclear exactly how many of our schools aren’t quite ready to reopen.

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If you’re paying close attention to education in the age of the coronavirus, you might want to check out Brown University economist Emily Oster’s piece in The Atlantic on how schools don’t appear to be the super-spreaders of the virus that some predicted.

Oster agreed to answer a few questions for Rhode Map on the research she is doing.

Q: Your research shows infection rates have been quite low among both students and staff, but do we have a sense of whether kids just aren’t the super-spreaders we thought they might be, or if all the precautions that have been taken (like staggered schedules) are helping to prevent a spread?

Oster: My guess is that it is both. Schools in our data are taking a lot of precautions (especially masks), which likely matters a lot. Based on other data (Florida, for example), we haven’t seen huge outbreaks even though they are taking fewer of these.

But this is the kind of question we hope our data can help answer. Our next big analysis task, once we pull in another round of data, is to look at changes in case rates over time and correlate them with precautions. I’m especially eager to do this by age group. It is possible that elementary school students are generally low risk, but high school students really need a lot of precautions. That’s something we can only learn with data.

Q: There’s a lot of fear that we could see a spike in cases as the weather turns colder. Do you think we have enough data to be making long-term decisions on school reopenings?

Oster: Is anything long-term these days? I hear this fear a lot and I think it’s legitimate, but it’s hard to base decision-making on it now. What I think we do need to do is be ready to pivot if we need to. This could be due to a case spike, or it could be due to fear of one.

My bigger concern in the winter is we will have too many people out with suspected symptoms and schools will have to close for some period to address this. Again, we need good testing and a plan to pivot if necessary.

Q: You sound a little bit like Governor Gina Raimondo when you write about the harm that not reopening schools can cause to students and families. How do you think Rhode Island is doing

Joe Biden Has 91 Percent Chance of Winning Electoral College, Latest Economist Forecast Predicts

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has a seemingly prohibitive chance of winning the presidency after gaining a majority of electoral college votes, according to the latest election forecast from The Economist.



a man wearing a suit and tie: Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks to reporters after making a campaign stop in Hebron, Ohio on October 12, 2020.


© Chip Somodevilla/Getty
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks to reporters after making a campaign stop in Hebron, Ohio on October 12, 2020.

Biden is given a 91 percent chance of winning the electoral college in the forecast as of Monday, while President Donald Trump is given a 9 percent chance. The forecast also predicts that the former vice president is all but certain to win a majority of the popular vote, having a 99 percent chance of winning the lion’s share of the national vote.

Election Day 2020: Where Trump, Biden Stand In The Polls 30 Days Before Nov. 3

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With 270 electoral college votes needed to win the presidency, Biden is predicted to win an estimated 347 electoral votes, while 191 are estimated for Trump. The forecast is based on a predictive model that simulates 20,000 plausible election outcomes, with each simulation varying vote shares to account for possible polling errors.

Although the model puts the president at a distinct disadvantage, it does not completely write him off. A range of 116 to 312 electoral votes are predicted for Trump, while 226 to 422 votes are predicted for Biden. Scenarios where neither candidate reaches 270 votes were predicted in fewer than 1 percent of simulations.

The forecast looks far from favorable for Trump, but supporters of the president may be quick to point out that similar forecasts were made before his surprise 2016 victory over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Some 2016 forecasts suggested that Trump had almost no chance of winning, with the Princeton Election Consortium predicting that Clinton had a 99 percent chance of winning and The Huffington Post giving her a 98 percent chance.

FiveThirtyEight, which presented a somewhat more favorable outlook for Trump and ultimately gave him a 28.4 percent chance of winning by Election Day 2016, is currently giving the president a 13 percent chance of winning against Biden, nearly identical to the 13.1 percent chance he was given against Clinton on October 12, 2016.

However, Biden is polling better than Clinton was at the same point in the last election. Biden was leading Trump an average of 10.4 percent nationally on Monday, while Clinton was ahead by 6.3 percent at the same point. Clinton’s lead shrunk to an average of 3.9 percent by Election Day, before she ended up winning the national popular vote by 2.1 percent despite losing the electoral college.

State polling also looks more favorable for Biden when compared to Clinton. In Pennsylvania, which the forecast from The Economist deems most likely