A group of researchers found that up to 51% of all school employees in the United States met criteria established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) for having increased risk or a potential increased risk for contracting SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
“Between 42.0% and 51.4% of all school employees met the CDC definition for being at increased risk of severe COVID-19, depending on whether we used the main or broader CDC definition of increased risk,” the authors of the preprinted study, which was released ahead of peer review by the journal Health Affairs this week, stated in their report.
The CDC considers high-risk individuals to be those who are in an older age group, and individuals with underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
“These results align closely with the 43% of teachers who reported having a physical condition that makes them vulnerable to COVID-19 in a recent nationally-representative Education Week Research Center survey,” the study stated.
The researchers also looked at how often individuals at risk for severe novel coronavirus infections were associated with schools, meaning if they worked or lived in the same household with a school employee or school-age children.
“Our results highlight the public health challenge that arises when the risk of school-related exposure is coupled with the potential for within-household transmission,” the study authors wrote in the report.
“We also found that many school employees and many school-age children lived in households with persons with increased risk. Overall, between 63.2% and 71.9% of school employees and between 58.7% and 71.0% of school-age children lived in households with at least one increased-risk adult, depending on the CDC guideline used,” the authors stated in the study.
The team of researchers used data collected between 2014 and 2017 to see how the high-risk individuals for COVID-19 infections were associated with elementary and secondary schools.
“Among all adults with CDC risk factors for severe COVID-19, between 33.9 million and 44.2 million had direct or within-household connections to schools,” the researchers wrote.
The study found that high blood pressure and obesity were the main conditions that put school employees at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. The study also found a difference in risk depending on the type of job the employee had at the school.
“Among school employees, low-skill support staff were more likely to be at increased risk (58.2%), compared to teachers and teacher assistants (37.8%) or administrators and high-skill support staff (39.1%).”
The study also found that men were more likely to be at increased risk than women, and Blacks more likely than Whites.
“Our analysis finds large numbers of adults who have increased risk of severe COVID-19 and who have a direct or within-household connection to schools,” the study authors said in the report.
They added, “It is important to bear in mind that school reopening represents only one of many possible pathways for exposure to SARS-CoV-2. Individuals face risks of exposure risks in their jobs and communities, even if schools remain closed.”
The study authors noted that the data used in their report predated the novel coronavirus pandemic and doesn’t account for the significant changes in employment, household members, and school attendance that has occurred since the outbreak. They also said there is a possibility the study undercounts the actual number of those meeting the CDC guidelines for the risk of contracting COVID-19 and being connected to a school.