Question Is the reopening of schools during the COVID-19 pandemic associated with increased COVID-19 incidence and mortality?
Findings In this cross-sectional study of 643 Brazilian municipalities including 18 761 schools, on average, there was no systematic association between school reopening and COVID-19 incidence or mortality in São Paulo State up to 12 weeks after reopening, which was also the case for schools in the most vulnerable conditions. Aggregate mobility was already high before the school reopening and did not significantly increase afterwards.
Meaning The results of this study suggest that reopening schools under appropriate protocols in low- and middle-income countries during the pandemic is unlikely to be associated with higher aggregate COVID-19 cases or deaths when counterfactual mobility is already high.Abstract
Importance School closures because of COVID-19 have left 1.6 billion students around the world without in-person classes for a prolonged period. To our knowledge, no study has documented whether reopening schools in low- and middle-income countries during the pandemic was associated with increased aggregate COVID-19 incidence and mortality with appropriate counterfactuals.
Objective To test whether reopening schools under appropriate protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic was associated with increased municipal-level COVID-19 cases and deaths in São Paulo State, Brazil.
Design, Setting, and Participants This observational study of municipalities in São Paulo State, Brazil, uses a difference-in-differences analysis to examine the association between municipal decisions to reopen schools during the COVID-19 pandemic and municipal-level COVID-19 case and death rates between October and December 2020. The study compared 129 municipalities that reopened schools in 2020 with 514 that did not and excluded data for 2 municipalities that reopened schools and closed then again.
Main Outcomes and Measures New COVID-19 cases and deaths per 10 000 inhabitants up to 12 weeks after school reopenings and municipal-level aggregate mobility for a subset of municipalities.
Results There were 8764 schools in the 129 municipalities that reopened schools compared with 9997 in the control group of 514 municipalities that did not reopen schools. The municipalities that reopened schools had a cumulative COVID-19 incidence of 20 cases per 1000 inhabitants and mortality of 0.5 deaths per 1000 inhabitants in September 2020 (the baseline period) compared with an incidence of 18 cases per 1000 inhabitants and mortality of 0.45 deaths per 1000 inhabitants during the baseline period in the comparison group. The findings indicated that there were no statistically significant differences between municipalities that authorized schools to reopen and those that did not for (1) weekly new cases (difference-in-differences, –0.03; 95% CI, –0.09 to 0.03) and (2) weekly new deaths (difference-in-differences, –0.003; 95% CI, –0.011 to 0.004) before and after October 2020. Reopening schools was not associated with higher disease activity, even in relatively vulnerable municipalities, nor aggregate mobility.
Conclusions and Relevance The findings from this study suggest that keeping schools open during the COVID-19 pandemic did not contribute to the aggregate disease activity.
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