Teachers, Your Commute Puts You at More Risk than In-Person Classes

The fatality risk of teaching a class in-person during the COVID-19 epidemic last fall was comparable to the risk of driving 16 miles in a car.

That is the top-line conclusion of a study based on extensive data from North Carolina, Wisconsin, Australia, England, and Israel covering almost 80 million person-days in school. That study. “The Incidence and Magnitude of the Health Costs of In-person Schooling during the COVID-19 Pandemic,” by University of Chicago economics professor Casey B. Mulligan, was published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

For perspective, the average commuting distance (both ways) in Virginia is about 44 miles.

The 16-miles of driving is an average risk factor. Risks are lower for teachers who are younger and live alone, and higher for older teachers who live in households with spouses or partners. Rates also vary by the prevalence of the virus in the community. Mulligan assumed that teachers and partners were unvaccinated. His scenario was based on a level of disease prevalent experienced in the U.S. in the fall of 2020.

Bacon’s bottom line: Mulligan does not explore the public policy implications of his findings. But one can reasonably assume that with a steadily increasing percentage of the population being vaccinated, the risks of COVID infection at school, which were small to begin with, are declining. Teachers’ risks of dying from the disease from a school-acquired infection are fast approaching zero. Mulligan does not attempt to measure the risks associated with prolonging the social isolation of students, which contributes to anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation, but they are widely acknowledged to be greater than zero.

It’s hard to see how any school district can justify delaying a return to in-person learning. Here’s the Virginia Department of Education map, effective March 22, showing the instruction status of the state’s school districts.

If you live in a school district where in-person learning is still curtailed due to resistance by teachers to return to school, here’s a question to ask: When the epidemic is over, do you intend to drive to work? Yes? Then what’s holding you back now?