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July 29, 2020

COVID-19 and School Closures

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Health Policy and Management, Graduate School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • 2Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine, UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
JAMA. Published online July 29, 2020. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.13092

To mitigate the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the cause of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), US states enacted a suite of nonpharmaceutical interventions. School closures were among the most consistently applied of these interventions. Over a 10-day period in March, all 50 US states closed kindergarten-grade 12 schools and childcare centers; nearly all colleges and universities followed suit. These closures were unprecedented in scope, affecting 21 million children in childcare, 57 million students in kindergarten-grade 12, and 20 million college and university students.

School closures were not limited to the US. By mid-April, 192 countries had closed schools, affecting more than 90% (nearly 1.6 billion) of the world’s students.1 With limited information regarding COVID-19 in children, state and local officials were guided by evidence from other respiratory viruses, such as influenza, in which children have a substantial role in transmission. Although the evidence on effectiveness is mixed, school closures have been promoted as effective mitigation strategies during pandemics.2,3 Understanding the effect school closures had on COVID-19 outcomes in the spring of 2020 is crucial for informing preparations for the fall.