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Four Years Ago This Month, COVID-19 Closed Schools in 45 States. Are Schools Ready for the Next Disaster?

Structure of a Coronavirus

Four years ago this month, 45 states had closed local schools and CDC had issued its second round of guidance for schools on cleaning and disinfecting for the virus.

By March 2020, Healthy Schools Network, then in its 25th year, had long recognized that it is a public health and education imperative to keep children safe at school, and that infection control starts with good indoor air quality and adequate ventilation matched by cleaning and careful disinfecting. In fact, the conditions of school facilities, many of which still today lack adequate clean air indoors and have poor or no mechanical air handling systems, affect the health of children and personnel every single day, and will impact the transmission of infectious diseases like colds and flu as well as novel diseases, like COVID-19.

That spring, we began collaborating with the New Jersey Work Environment Council to co-develop a report on readying schools for re-opening. We called for all schools to have written and adopted comprehensive Infection Prevention and Control Plans. We published our joint report The Pandemic v. Schools in July 2020. Here is some of what we found:

By the Numbers

 45       Number of states that closed schools in March 2020 (NBC)

131,930      Public and private PK-12 schools in the US (NCES)

118,000      Number of schools closed (NBC)

54,000,000     Number of children affected by closures (NBC)

5,500,000     Total public school employees (BLS)

300,000     Number of school custodians (BLS)

20%   Percentage of public school teachers at or over 55 years old (NCES)

50,800,000     Number of children enrolled in public school (NCES)

56,600,000     Number of children enrolled in all public and private schools (NCES)

47.6%   Percentage of white children in public schools (NCES)

15.2%   Percentage of black children in public schools (NCES)

26.7%   Percentage of hispanic children in public schools (NCES)

61.0%   Percentage of children using internet at home (NCES)

29,900,000     Number of children on free/subsidized meals (SNA)

7,100,000     Number of children ages 3-21 receiving special education (NCES)

25%   Percentage of children in schools with chronic health conditions (CDC)

React or get ready? $1,494,634,477 is what the US Department of Education spent FY 18-23 on schools and school children impacted by federally declared disaster events, and by school violence. With increasingly severe weather events becoming the new normal, Healthy Schools Network urges federal and state agencies and elected officials to help fund all schools to become resilient to weather extremes that damage and destroy schools and resilient and prepared for the new and old viruses on their way.

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