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Analysis Shows No Difference in COVID-19 Spread in Regions Where Schools Are Fully Remote Compared to Those with Hybrid Model

By Greg Bishop

While in-person instruction can be linked to an increase of COVID-19 cases, it doesn’t correlate to increased COVID-19-related fatalities, according to a new analysis.

There also doesn’t seem to be any difference in the number of cases where schools are fully remote or using a hybrid plan. That’s according to data analysis from a University of Illinois Springfield professor.

Since the spring semester was cut short under stay-at-home orders by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, schools across the state started the new school year under a variety of different plans. Some have in-person instruction with mask mandates, social distancing requirements and health screenings. Others chose to do a hybrid model with a mix of some days in-person and other days remote.

Illinois Association of Regional Superintendent of Schools President Mark Klaisner said last week the association has heard of problems with the different education plans around the state, but it is also hearing success stories.

“We’re seeing young children who are managing the masks, who are able to be in person. We’re also seeing that some young kids are thriving at home,” Klaisner said.

Out of the fear of spreading COVID-19, the vast majority of the state’s 850 school districts are fully remote.

UIS professor Gary Reinbold compared COVID-19 case numbers from areas that were mainly in-person teaching, those who were hybrid and those who were online only. He found while in-person instruction correlates with higher COVID-19 cases, it doesn’t correlate with higher COVID-19-related deaths.

“Overall, though, it appears that in-person instruction contributed significantly more to increases in the number of reported cases than either hybrid instruction or online-only instruction and that there was not a significant difference between hybrid and online-only instruction in contributing to those increases,” he wrote. “None of the differences in instruction types appear to have contributed significantly to increases in the number of reported deaths.”

“Deaths are so unpredictable,” Reinbold told WMAY on Wednesday. “In a lot of cases, it’s just sort of a matter of bad luck in terms of who happens to get sick, whether they be in a high-risk group.”

That wasn’t the only thing Reinbold found in his review of the data.

“To me, the most interesting thing that I found was that there wasn’t a significant difference between counties that had most of their students in hybrid and counties that had most of their students in fully online,” Reinbold said.

Reinbold said his conclusion should send the message to school boards that the benefits of having kids in school outweigh the risks of COVID-19 spread.

“Certainly we know there are a lot of benefits of having kids in schools across a variety of different areas and more and more it’s looking like the risks aren’t as significant as we thought they were,” Rienbold said.

Even before Reinbold’s data review, Klainser said getting into a hybrid model was important.

“The ability to be in a hybrid mode when that’s available, as soon as that’s available, to build face-to-face relationships and that connecting is hugely powerful,” Klainser said.

Of the state’s 1.9 million public school students, the Illinois State Board of Education reported Tuesday the vast majority, or nearly 1.2 million, attend classes remotely. About 600,000 students have a blended model. Fewer than 200,000 have all in-person learning.

Fully remote learning is primarily in Cook County, the surrounding suburban areas, and the Metro East-St. Louis area.

Originally published by The Center Square. Republished with permission.

Greg Bishop
Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other statewide issues for The Center Square. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience, and previously hosted “Bishop On Air,” a morning-drive current events talk show.

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