Early January Dashboard UPDATE

The Dashboard is updated with data for the first half of January. You can see it here. We’ve added some new data, and backfilled some earlier waves. The current wave has close to 10 million enrolled students; about 5 million of whom are in person.

COVID-19 rates in the US are higher in this wave of the data than in the past, and this is reflected in the staff and student rates in the data. Recall as always that our dashboard measures cases in people who are associated with schools, NOT cases spread in schools. We therefore expect community rates to influence school rates.

The patterns have remained largely similar over the past waves. Staff rates are higher than student rates and rates in older students are higher than in younger students. In New York, in particular, staff rates are higher than community case rates, although much lower than testing positivity rates. As we discuss in more detail here, this may well reflect higher testing volume in NY schools than elsewhere in the community.

The next update will be in two weeks, when we expect to see lower community rates as the post-holiday surge has started to wane.

Other Research & Resources

This seemed an opportune time and audience to highlight some other findings and resources which fill gaps that we cannot (or at least do not) with the Dashboard.

Transmission in School: As noted above, the Dashboard is not able to systematically identify transmission in school settings. For that, systematic contact tracing is necessary. Which is why this new study out of Duke, published in the journal Pediatrics, is so important. Following 90,000 students and staff in person, they found almost 800 cases in the population which were acquired based on community transmission. But they found only 32 cases in which a secondary case was spread in school. Notably, none of these cases were spread child to adult. They estimated that if in-school transmission was similar to community transmission, they would have seen 800 cases. Instead, 32.

This study also highlights the value of mitigation, since the schools in their study were masking and undertaking other basic infection protocols. In fact, one of the small clusters they do observe with transmission among children was in a younger class without masks. More than anything we can say in our data, this highlights the low transmission risk in schools who are taking precautions.

Overall School Opening Rates: We’re sometimes asked about using the Dashboard to track national school reopening rates. Outside of the couple of states with systematic data, we aren’t a great source for this information. We usually point people to the Burbio School Tracker for this.

Testing: The Biden Administration has cited testing for teachers and students as a key to reopening, both schools and the economy more broadly. For schools and states working in this space, we’d point to the Rockerfeller Foundation testing plan and, relatedly, to this Op-Ed by Rajiv Shah and Randi Weingarten on how we can open schools by investing in testing.

Email us!

Thoughts welcome: covidschooldashboard@gmail.com.

Next week look for some thoughts from the educational partners in the Dashboard on what comes next.