Reopening Schools in the Pandemic Did Not Increase COVID-19 Incidence and Mortality in Brazil

26 Pages Posted: 30 Mar 2021

See all articles by Guilherme Lichand

Guilherme Lichand

University of Zurich - Department of Economics

Carlos Alberto Doria

University of Zurich - Department of Economics

Joao Cossi

Inter-American Development Bank

Onicio Leal Neto

University of Zurich - Department of Economics

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: March 25, 2021

Abstract

Background: School closures due to COVID-19 have left 1.6 billion students around the world without in-person classes for a prolonged period of time. To date, no study has documented whether reopening schools in developing countries during the pandemic causally increased aggregate COVID-19 incidence and mortality with appropriate counterfactuals.

Methods: We take advantage of the fact that 131 municipalities in São Paulo State, Brazil, reopened schools for in-person activities between October and December 2020, to estimate the causal effects of school reopening on municipal-level COVID-19 effective potential growth and deaths. We estimate treatment effects through a differences-in-differences strategy, comparing how outcomes evolved between municipalities that reopened schools and all others, before and after school reopening. We also estimate heterogeneous treatment effects by local characteristics. Last, we estimate the effects of school reopening on a local mobility index to shed light on the mechanisms behind its impacts on disease activity.

Findings: We find that school reopening did not increase COVID-19 incidence or mortality on average, up to 12 weeks after reopening. The counterfactual is critical for our conclusions: comparing only municipalities that reopened schools before and after reopening would lead us to conclude the opposite. Reopening schools did not affect disease activity even in poorer municipalities, in those with low-quality school infrastructure, with higher senior population share, or with higher baseline disease activity. We also find no effects of school reopening on the local mobility index.

Interpretation: While keeping schools open during the pandemic could still increase risks for school staff and students’ families, our findings suggest that it did not contribute to the aggregate disease activity. This was the case not only because schools typically represent only a small fraction of the overall municipal population, but also because counterfactual mobility during the pandemic was already substantial even in the absence of in-person classes – making the marginal health benefits of keeping schools closed negligible in the aggregate.

Note: Funding Statement: Research funded by the Inter-American Development Bank.

Declaration of Interests: GL and OLN received fees from the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) for the design of this study. JC is an IADB staff member. CAB declares no competing interests.

Keywords: COVID-19; Development Economics; Schools reopening; Epidemiology

Suggested Citation

Lichand, Guilherme and Alberto Doria, Carlos and Cossi Fernandes, Joao Paulo and Leal Neto, Onicio, Reopening Schools in the Pandemic Did Not Increase COVID-19 Incidence and Mortality in Brazil (March 25, 2021). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3812173 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3812173

Guilherme Lichand (Contact Author)

University of Zurich - Department of Economics ( email )

Zürich
Switzerland

Carlos Alberto Doria

University of Zurich - Department of Economics ( email )

Zürich
Switzerland

Joao Paulo Cossi Fernandes

Inter-American Development Bank ( email )

1300 New York Ave NW
Washington, DC 20577
United States

Onicio Leal Neto

University of Zurich - Department of Economics ( email )

Zürich
Switzerland

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