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The Impact of School Closure for COVID-19 on the US Healthcare Workforce and the Net Mortality Effects
16 Pages Posted: 26 Mar 2020More...
Background: COVID-19 is leading to the implementation of social distancing policies around the world and in the United States, including school closures. The evidence that mandatory school closures reduce cases and ultimately mortality mostly comes from experience with influenza or from models that do not include the impact of school closure on the healthcare labor supply or the role of the healthcare labor force in reducing the per infection mortality from the pathogen. There is considerable uncertainty of the incremental effect of school closures on transmission and lives saved from school closures. The likely, but uncertain, benefits from school closure need to be weighed against uncertain, and seldom quantified, costs of healthcare worker absenteeism associated with additional child care obligations.
Methods: We analyze data from the US Current Population Survey to measure the potential child care obligations for US healthcare workers that will need to be addressed if school closures are employed as a social distancing measure. We account for the occupation within the healthcare sector, state, and household structure to identify the segments of the healthcare labor force that are most exposed to child care obligations from school closures. We use these estimates to identify the critical level for the importance of healthcare labor supply in increasing a patient’s COVID-19 survival probability that would undo the benefits of school closures and ultimately increase cumulative mortality.
Findings: The US healthcare sector has some of the highest child care obligations in the United States. 29% of healthcare provider households must provide care for children 3-12. Assuming non-working adults or a sibling 13 years old or older can provide child care, leaves 15% of healthcare provider households in need of childcare during a school closure, while 7% of healthcare households are single-parent households. We document the substantial variation within the healthcare system. For example, 35% of medical assistants and 31% of nursing, psychiatric, and home health aide households have child care obligations, while only 24% of emergency medical personnel have childcare obligations. Child care obligations can vary between states by over 10 percentage points. A 15% decline in the healthcare labor force, combined with reasonable parameters for COVID-19 such as a 15% case reduction from school closings and 2% baseline mortality rate implies that a 15% loss in the healthcare labor force must decrease the survival probability per percent healthcare worker lost by 17.6% for a school closure to increase cumulative mortality. This means that the per infection mortality rate cannot increase from 2% to 2.35% when the healthcare workforce declines by 15%; otherwise, school closures will lead to a greater number of deaths than they prevent. For school closures to unambiguously provide a net reduction in COVID-19 mortality with these parameters, the school closures must reduce cases by over 25%.
Conclusion: School closures come with many tradeoffs. Setting aside economic costs, school closures implemented to reduce COVID-19 spread create unintended childcare obligations, which are particularly large in healthcare occupations. Detailed data are provided to help public health officials make informed decisions about the tradeoffs associated with closing schools. The results suggest that it is unclear if the potential contagion prevention from school closures justifies the potential loss of healthcare workers from the standpoint of reducing cummulative mortality.
Funding Statement: No external funding.
Declaration of Interests: The authors declare no competing interests.
Keywords: COVID-19; coronavirus; SARS-CoV-2; outbreak; school closure; social distancing; non-pharmaceutical interventions; healthcare; labor supply; doctors; nurses
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation