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