The Incidence and Magnitude of the Health Costs of In-person Schooling during the COVID-19 Pandemic
The health costs of in-person schooling during the pandemic, if any, fall primarily on the families of students, largely due to the fact that students significantly outnumber teachers. Data from North Carolina, Wisconsin, Australia, England, and Israel covering almost 80 million person-days in school help assess the magnitude of the fatality risks of in-person schooling (with mitigation protocols), accounting for the age and living arrangements of students and teachers. The risks of in-person schooling to teachers are comparable to the risks of commuting by automobile. Valued at a VSL of $10 million, the average daily fatality cost ranges from $0.01 for an unvaccinated young teacher living alone to as much as $29 for an elderly and unvaccinated teacher living with an elderly and unvaccinated spouse. COVID-19 risk avoidance may also be more amenable to Bayesian updating and selective protection than automobile fatalities are. The results suggest that economic behaviors can sometimes invert epidemiological patterns when it comes to the spread of infectious diseases in human populations.
I appreciate financial support from the University of Chicago’s Initiative on Enabling Choice and Competition in Healthcare, the research assistance of Alex Kahn, and clarifications from Professors Kanecia Zimmerman and Daniel Benjamin. The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.