Story at a glance
- Schools in the U.S. must decide whether or not to resume live classes in the fall.
- National data suggests teachers are at risk for contracting a severe coronavirus infection.
Whether or not schools are set to reopen in the fall is still being discussed by many counties, leaving millions of students and academic professionals in an uncertainty-limbo until public health experts make a decision to hold in-person classes or to have students learn remotely.
New data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, however, may guide public health experts to an answer; a new report suggests that approximately 24 percent of teachers are at a greater risk for becoming infected with a serious coronavirus infection.
Put differently, that figures accounts for almost 1.5 million teachers, or roughly 1 in 4.
There's considerable debate about #ReopeningSchools during the coronavirus pandemic.— KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation) (@KFF) July 11, 2020
This analysis finds that 1 in 4 teachers (24%, or about 1.47M people), have a condition that puts them at higher risk of serious illness from coronavirus https://t.co/jWQvKkbT0M pic.twitter.com/qWDH0vPaE7
Multiple factors can make one at risk for a more severe COVID-19 infection that may demand hospitalization or intubation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) list that older adults and individuals with underlying medical conditions, especially diabetes, obesity, chronic lung, heart or kidney disease, are at an especially high risk.
This data was gathered from a 2018 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), with a search narrowed to include primary, secondary and special education school teachers who reported having risk factors associated with severe COVID-19 infections.
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The numbers underscore just some of the anxieties teachers, students and school employees face as the new academic year approaches and the pandemic shows no signs of dissipating. While children have largely shown strong recoveries from the coronavirus — aside from younger patients who contract a Kawasaki-like disease — an illness that causes inflammation of the blood vessels and typically affects kids younger than 5 years of age— following exposure to the virus, they can act as asymptomatic carriers and transmit the virus to vulnerable relatives or teachers.
“The challenge for school systems and for teachers in particular is the sheer volume of traffic and tight quarters in many school environments, which may make social distancing a significant challenge in many settings,” the report writes. “For higher-risk teachers, failure to achieve safe working conditions could have very serious results.”
This threat affects academic professionals across the gamut, from those working in elementary schools to professors at universities and colleges. It has prompted some to demand masks and social distancing to be mandatory on campus and for in-person classes. Some schools have opted to forgo the forthcoming 2020 semester all together and have students work remotely.
In response, some teachers are choosing early retirement, or leaving the field altogether. Others are not in a financial position to do so, and reluctantly agree to tend to a class during the pandemic.
“How state and local officials balance the desire to reopen schools and other facilities with the need to assure the safety of students, parents, and school personnel will have significant health and economic consequences for both people and the communities they live in,” the report authors conclude. “Assuring the safety of teachers and others at higher risk of serious illness from coronavirus is a crucial part of the calculation around reopening.”
The CDC has issued guidelines for reopening schools safely amid the pandemic.
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