Emerging data on contact tracing — which illuminates the origins of infections — shows that the virus does not seem to spread much within schools when they require masks, urge social distancing, have good ventilation and when community spread is low.
But because of a lack of a cohesive federal response, huge gaps in the data remain, and many say new information about school transmission is not sufficient to make far-reaching conclusions.
The results? School systems have responded to the virus in wildly different ways that often seemed more shaped by politics than data, according to an analysis conducted by the Center on Reinventing Public Education.
Researchers say that in some cases, closing schools, and leaving children in the care of adults who do not force them to wear masks or socially distance, may put them at higher risk of contracting and spreading the virus.
“If kids or teachers are not in schools, they may be in child-care centers or learning pods that are also causing community spread,” said co-author Dan Goldhaber, who directs the Center for Education Data and Research at University of Washington. “From a public policy standpoint . . . it’s not necessarily safer to have the schools closed.”