Study documents COVID death rates of teachers and child care workers

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Child care workers were more likely than the typical American worker to die from COVID in 2020, new research shows.

Among more than one million child care workers, 405 died from COVID in 2020, the study found, using data from almost every state. That translates to 38 deaths per 100,000 child care workers – a higher rate than all workers overall, and similar to others in “essential” industries where in-person work was common.

In contrast, K-12 teachers had slightly lower death rates than the typical worker. Eight hundred and eight public and private school teachers died of COVID in the first year of the pandemic, for a rate of 15 deaths per 100,000 teachers.

The study, which examined death rates among 155 million American workers in 46 states, offers the clearest picture yet of the toll the first year of the pandemic has taken on American educators — and the disproportionate impact on child care workers in particular.

“There is no way of knowing from this particular research whether or not it was childcare work itself that caused the increase in morbidity,” said Walter Gilliam, a professor from Yale who is studying child care. “It doesn’t change the fact that this is a workforce that we don’t adequately support.”

The study cannot distinguish between several reasons why death rates for different occupations diverged. Although the researchers adjusted for age, they did not account for other The factors that could affect a person’s risk of contracting and dying from COVID, including other health conditions, access to health care, race, income, or geography. It also cannot show whether COVID was contracted at work or elsewhere.

Jobs with the highest death rates included cooks, security guards, orderlies and truck drivers. Workers in essential industries had nearly double the death rate as those in “non-essential” jobs. Overall, 31 out of 100,000 workers died from COVID in 2020.

Although they cannot show it definitively, the researchers suggest that the generally high death rates among essential workers were due to insufficient safety precautions in the workplace.

“We infer that at least some of it is due to onsite transmission,” said Yea-Hung Chen, one of the study’s authors and a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, although he admitted that the results “don’t prove it.”

The paper didn’t break down the data for child care workers or teachers, but Chen provided the results to Chalkbeat.

One possible explanation for why female child care workers had higher mortality rates than female teachers is that child care centers and early learning centers were generally openwhile many K-12 schools have continued virtual instruction through 2020.

“During the pandemic, it was these unheralded child care workers who were keeping the American economy going by looking after other people’s children,” Gilliam said.

But Gilliam’s to research found that child care workers who returned to in-person work in the spring of 2020 had similar COVID infection rates to those who did not return to in-person work, suggesting that other factors were at stake. In England, where schools reopened for in-person teaching in autumn 2020, teachers have also doesn’t have high mortality rates compared to other professionals.

The data comes after more than a year of debate over how quickly public schools should reopen – and the lingering consequences of some remaining closed for in-person instruction for much of the 2020-21 school year. Many politicians and some parents have urged schools to reopen faster than they have. But other parents and many teachers have pushed schools to stay virtual out of concern for safety.

The research has found that students who stayed virtual fell further behind academically. The latest study does not examine whether decisions to reopen schools have contributed to death rates among child care workers or teachers.

Overall, 350,000 Americans died from COVID in 2020, and each loss of a teacher or educator left families, colleagues, and children devastated. “These are people who are loved in their school communities and have done so much good, and now they are gone,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at the time. said in April 2020.

Matt Barnum is a national journalist covering education policy, politics and research. Contact him at mbarnum@chalkbeat.org.

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