By: Ted Dabrowski and John Klingner
It’s only natural for parents and teachers to be worried about the impact of returning students to the classroom.
But it’s important to look at the science and data of the coronavirus. The reality is children are far less likely to get infected with COVID-19, are far less likely to get seriously ill, and are far less likely to spread the virus to adults and other children.
And after months of learning to deal with the coronavirus, Illinois is in far better shape for reopening schools than it was just three months ago. The state’s overall metrics for COVID deaths are on a downward trend. Hospitalizations are also down and stable. Cook County, the place most impacted in Illinois, has seen a rapid decline in deaths across all age groups. It’s the same in most parts of the state.
Residents in New Trier HS District 203, for example, haven’t been hit hard by COVID-19, with no new deaths in over two months. And a vast majority of teaching staff there is young enough to be at low risk from the virus.
Here’s what parents in New Trier, and the parents in hundreds of other school districts with similar circumstances, should know about Illinois’ readiness to return to in-person schooling:
1. Illinois is in comparatively better shape than other states to reopen in-person schools. While Illinois had one of the country’s highest per-capita death rates just two-and-a-half months ago, on August 2 the state reported just 14 deaths.
That contrasts sharply with what’s happening in other states that are experiencing a resurgence in cases and more importantly, deaths. The below chart shows how deaths have jumped in some states while Illinois’ deaths have hit new lows since the inception of the crisis.
2. Closer to home, Cook County’s death rate has also collapsed. Concerns about spread from nearby communities is also far less worrisome than it once was. COVID deaths in Cook County have declined dramatically across every age group.
3. The New Trier township has had no COVID-19 deaths in nearly 2.5 months. The last death within the township borders (the school district and the township have almost identical borders) occurred on May 19, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office as of July 28.
4. Of the eight township residents who died of COVID, their average age was 87. The youngest victim was 71, while the oldest was 101. Young and middle-aged residents – students and teachers – have avoided the worst of COVID-19.
5. Teacher-aged residents in Illinois have been largely spared. In total, 407 Illinois adults under the age of 50 have died from COVID as of July 29. There are over 94,000 known cases in that age group, but the real number of people infected is certainly far larger. The CDC’s best estimates assume there are 10 times more undetected cases of COVID-19 than detected. Based on their estimate, the group fatality rate for adults younger than 50 is at 0.04 percent.
6. Nearly 70 percent of New Trier teachers are under the age of 50. And 60 percent are under the age of 40. That means as a group they’re at far less risk of suffering death from COVID-19. That’s particularly true when comorbidities are taken into account (next section).
7. The risk for healthy teachers is even lower: 91 percent of Cook County COVID-19 victims had pre-existing conditions. Age alone should not be the concern for teachers since pre-existing conditions are the determining factor in COVID-19 deaths. County data shows that 91 percent of COVID-19 victims in Cook County suffered from one or more comorbidities, i.e., hypertension, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, etc. Nationally, the CDC points out that 94 percent of all deaths have come with comorbidities. On average, each COVID death has been accompanied by 2.6 additional conditions.
Taking comorbidities into account means even fewer teachers are targets of the virus, especially those under the age of 40.
8. A total of just five youth under the age of 20 have died of COVID-19 in the entire state of Illinois. That’s 0.06% of the state’s nearly 7,500 COVID deaths. While any death is tragic, Illinois’ children have been largely unaffected by the Coronavirus.
9. Nationally, the child fatality rate is likely to be around 0.004 percent. The Women’s Institute for Independent Social Enquiry says nationwide there have been 390,588 reported cases of children with COVID-19, with 972 intensive care hospitalizations and 93 deaths. However, they estimate that when undetected cases are taken into account, 2.3 million children have been infected. That results in a fatality rate of just 0.004 percent. The true fatality rate could be even lower once widespread antibody testing captures just how many children have actually been infected by the virus.
10. There has been no known case anywhere in the world of a teacher catching coronavirus from pupils. From the Times of London: “There has been no recorded case of a teacher catching the coronavirus from a pupil anywhere in the world, according to one of the government’s leading scientific advisers. Mark Woolhouse, a leading epidemiologist and member of the government’s Sage committee, told The Times that it may have been a mistake to close schools in March given the limited role children play in spreading the virus.”
None of the above is meant to diminish the consequences of COVID-19 or the need to mitigate the virus’ spread. Older teachers and those with serious pre-existing conditions will need to take precautions. Alternatives should be offered to them, including online teaching, remote assistance to younger teachers, early retirement and more.
The elderly in multi-generational households also need to take precautions, though the good news is younger children are less likely to spread the virus to adults; in fact, the science shows it’s the other way around. And masks and other forms of social distancing are an effective way to help prevent transmission, according to the CDC and others.
Any reopening plans must be adjusted if the coronavirus changes and begins impacting children to a greater degree. However, the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics warn that the health risks for children being out of school currently outweigh the risks of them going back to the classroom. It’s best for Illinois’ children for schools to open safely, responsibly, and on time.
Read the evidence for yourself:
- The Importance of Reopening America’s Schools this Fall – CDC
- An evidence summary of Pediatric COVID-19 literature – Boast A, Munro A, Goldstein H., Don’t Forget the Bubbles
- The Case for Reopening Schools – Wall Street Journal
- How Schools Can Reopen Safely: Recommendations From Health Experts – Wall Street Journal
- More Than 20 Countries Are Reopening Schools. The U.S. Should Take Note – Heritage Foundation
- School openings across globe suggest ways to keep coronavirus at bay, despite outbreaks – Science Magazine
- Interview with Dr. Scott Atlas, Hoover Institution, Stanford University
- Fear first, education last? – Paul Peterson and Scott Atlas, The Hill