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Study: Less than 1 percent of teachers, students infected since schools reopened

A new study has found minimal evidence that the novel coronavirus is transferring inside K-12 school buildings despite reports of students and faculty across the country contracting the disease.

Brown University researchers collaborated with school administrators and released data Wednesday from a new National COVID-19 School Response Data Dashboard.

COVID-19 cases recorded in the dashboard show a relatively small degree of spread among staff and students. The study looked at data collected from more than 550 schools across 46 states over a two-week period starting Aug. 31, with more than 300 schools maintaining some level of in-person classes.

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Researchers found 0.23 percent of students had confirmed or suspected cases of the virus, while the rate among educators was 0.51 percent. The rates for confirmed cases were lower at 0.076 for students and 0.15 for teachers. The data included those for public and private schools, with many of the schools located in smaller communities.

Researchers at Brown University say the early evidence could mean that a return to classes this fall may not be as risky as school administrators previously expected, though they caution schools to analyze potential risks based on their own virus situation, The Washington Post reported.

"Everyone had a fear there would be explosive outbreaks of transmission in the schools. In colleges, there have been. We have to say that, to date, we have not seen those in the younger kids, and that is a really important observation,” Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told the Post.

The Post noted that inconsistent reporting in parts of the country represent a challenge for fully understanding the virus situation, and it's unclear how certain policies such as mask-wearing have impacted trends in those reviewed schools. 

Emily Oster, an economics professor at Brown University who aided in creating the tracker, told the newspaper the number of actual infections would reassure many concerned about the risk of reopening schools.

While she said the rates of coronavirus spread in schools are "much lower" than surrounding communities, she cautioned, "I don't think that these numbers say all places should open schools with no restrictions or anything that comes close to that. Ultimately, school districts are going to have different attitudes toward risk."

The study plans to add more schools as virus transfer trends continue to be analyzed.