Schools and Superspreading

One thing that is going to make keeping schools open much harder is the phenomenon of superspreading. The spread of COVID-19 appears to be largely driven by a small number of people who result in most of the infections. So why does this affect school opening and closing?

If, within a school system, the occasional teacher contracts COVID-19, that probably wouldn’t lead to a shutdown. The testing and tracing systems both can handle a teacher and some of her students. But a single superspreading event among the faculty and staff, and many places will be overwhelmed. At that point, that school certainly needs to be closed.

But teachers don’t act in isolation. It’s one thing for the occasional teacher to get infected, but when the faculty show up on Monday, and by Friday, a huge swath tests positive, that’s when teachers in other schools leave–or at least, they should.

The potential good news is, if we were to lower the prevalence of COVID-19, we would have fewer infected teachers and staff–and fewer infected teachers and staff means fewer potential superspreading events.

If we want to reopen schools–and keep them open–then we have to crush the curve now. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be happening, so superspreading followed by possible teachers strikes it is.

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3 Responses to Schools and Superspreading

  1. Gregory P. Lanman says:

    Schools in Georgia open on or about 10 August 2020. It takes over 10 days to receive the results from a COVID 19 diagnostic test. Georgia has done absolutely nothing to flatten the curve, since Georgia decided that reopening the economy was more important than the safety, health, and welfare of Georgians. Georgia continues to do nothing to flatten the curve.

    • Neva Knott says:

      Hi Gregory, why are results taking so long? I live in Washington state and was testing in a drive-through. I had my results in my email inbox in less than 72 hours. Ugh.

  2. Neva Knott says:

    Mike, thank you for your continuous commentary on this issue. As one who has taught in the public system and am now at a community college, I am wary of efforts to open the schools. Part, ok most, of the problem I see is what happens outside of the schools. What isn’t going to happen is students come to school while parents go to work, both “safe” environments, and then everyone comes home to stay-at-home orders and limits contact. When schools reopen, aka people have a place to dump their kids, everything is going to feel un-restrictedly open, except for a thin piece of fabric across one’s face, and all COVID hell is going to break loose. Then there’s the reality of the non-compliant… my college is in a “you’re taking away my rights” county. My department chair was shoved and mocked in a store the other day for wearing a mask; the woman actually followed her to her car, making sheep noises at her. So if that person is a parent of someone who is going to come back to school and “comply” well, you know.

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