Remote education policies helped to stymie the spread of the virus in many Ohio counties, leading to fewer cases and fewer deaths than counties where schools predominantly used in-person learning, the study said.
In Ohio, 16 counties pursued primarily in-person learning in fall 2020, while 11 counties had online-only classes, and 59 counties implemented hybrid models. Two Ohio counties did not provide data to researchers. Researchers examined the chosen education method along with COVID-19 deaths in all of Ohio’s 88 counties.
“The data showed a dramatic increase in COVID-19 deaths in counties where most school children were learning in school in the fall of 2020, compared to counties where most children were learning online,” said senior author Seema Lakdawala, Ph.D., assistant professor in the. “Upon closer examination, counties that maintained mostly in-person learning were never able to get the spread of the virus under control during the school year.”
Within three weeks of the school year beginning, counties with in-person learning had worsening COVID-19 spread when compared with online and hybrid districts, the study found.
“We examined the acceleration of COVID-19 in a subset of comparable counties and right at the beginning of the semester when, presumably, the only change in the environment was school starting,” said Valérie Ventura, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Statistics and Data Science in. “The differences in disease growth observed could only be attributed to school posture with reasonable confidence.”
As schools prepare for the 2021-2022 school year, Ohio officials are grappling with vaccine hesitancy and the ascendance of the extremely contagious delta variant of COVID-19. Lakdawala and her fellow authors recommended using their study to develop insight on how to prevent the spread of the virus.
“Everyone who is eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine should be strongly encouraged to get one; masks should absolutely still be required, and schools should strive for the best possible ventilation and air purification,” Lakdawala said. “And when a county appears to be experiencing an upswing in COVID-19 cases, moving to hybrid or online learning could help reduce spread and prevent deaths.”
To read more about the research, visit the University of Pittsburgh website.