Teaching Profession

A Third of Teachers Are at Higher Risk of Severe Illness From COVID-19

By Madeline Will — April 30, 2020 2 min read
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As states begin to consider what reopening schools might look like, a new analysis of federal data warns that teachers could be more susceptible to severe illness from COVID-19.

About 29 percent of teachers are aged 50 and older, federal data show. Older adults are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19—92 percent of deaths related to the disease in the United States were of people aged 55 and older, and that age group also has higher rates of coronavirus-related hospitalizations than younger adults. And as the brief report by the research group Child Trends points out, teachers have significantly more social contact than the average adult, since they’re in close quarters with dozens of students every day.

Already, teachers’ workplaces rank among the “germiest”—one study found that teachers have nearly 27 times more germs on their computer keyboards than other professions studied. Teachers report that they frequently come down with colds and other garden-variety illnesses over the course of the school year. After all, children are “effective transmitters of respiratory germs,” Donna Mazyck, the executive director of the National Association of School Nurses, told Education Week earlier this year.

The immune system naturally deteriorates with age, the Child Trends report notes. Also, teachers are more likely to report being stressed at work than average people, and some research suggests that stress can weaken the immune system.

Decisionmakers “responsible for reopening schools should weigh not only the health of their students, but also that of their teachers who are at elevated risk,” wrote Renee Ryberg, a research scientist at Child Trends. “Education administrators who choose to proceed with reopening should coordinate closely with health agencies to enact policies to keep teachers, as well as students, safe.”

Teachers’ unions are already pushing back against reopening schools without what they deem as sufficient safety measures in place. According to Politico, the presidents of the two national teachers’ unions will not rule out strikes or other protests if they feel schools are reopening too early.

The American Federation of Teachers released a plan to “safely and responsibly” reopen school buildings. One proposal was to allow at-risk teachers the option of delivering instruction remotely while students are in the building, with students under the supervision of other school staff.

And in the Miami-Dade school district, the teachers’ union has asked for personal protective equipment if school buildings reopen in August. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said the district would provide PPE to staff, and he plans to hire a chief health officer to address health concerns for both teachers and students, CBS Miami reports.

Image: Milos Dimic/iStock

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.