Did closing schools enhance health?

The table below shows various occupational-fatality risks before the pandemic, as well as the risk to teachers during the pandemic. The riskiest occupations were the fishing and hunting occupation, in which a fatality occurs once a year for every 690 persons employed. The rate for all jobs in the economy was one out of 28,571. Government jobs were safer than average, with deaths occurring once per 55,556 person years employed in 2019. In-person teaching during the pandemic was safer still. For the most common teacher demographic — those aged 25-44 with a spouse in the same age bracket — fatalities occurred once per year per 77,547 in-person teachers. The fatalities here include fatalities to teacher and family members from school-acquired COVID as well as other teacher fatalities from injuries occurring at school.

For every 22 million unvaccinated students and teachers schooling in person for a five-day week, the expected number of fatalities from school-acquired COVID-19 among teachers and spouses is one or fewer. Note that 22 million people distanced six feet apart would form a line that covers the entire Earth’s equator and overlap itself again for 2,700 miles.

These results show that the COVID risks of teaching in person are well within the range of familiar occupational risks that are priced in the labor market at about $10 million per expected fatality. Using that price, the cost of teaching a day in person (in fall 2020, before any vaccine was available) compared with spending the day in a zero-risk environment ranged from less than a penny per day for a young teacher living alone in a low-prevalence community to $29 per day for an elderly teacher living with an elderly adult in a high-prevalence community.