Friday, February 16, 2024

Did pandemic school closures really save lives? Yup

A study out of McMaster University is giving credence to the beliefs of some that the decision back in the early, panicky days of the pandemic to keep kids back from school was wrong-headed, ill-advised and downright dangerous.

Except that other studies - for example, a large one by the University of Manchester and Imperial College London in 2022, based on data from 130 countries - have concluded the exact opposite. According to that Manchester study, closing schools and workplaces appear to have been the two most effective strategies out of the nine interventions looked at in mitigating deaths from COVID-19 in the early days of the early days of the pandemic. And school closures were nearly five times as effective as workplace closures (1.23 daily deaths saved per million, compared to 0.26).

That's pretty compelling stuff. So how then are we supposed to take McMaster's opposing conclusions?

The McMaster meta-study is not quite as black-and-white as the media coverage suggests. It admits that "the overall findings were mixed". But it seems to be the case that results changed over time, and that school closures were probably a very important measure in the early days when good information was hard to come by. 

Remember, these were the days before vaccines, the days when cloth mask held sway, and we were wiping down our groceries and doorknobs. These were the days before the pandemic was a pandemic, and the death rate from those early variants was huge. It stands to reason that removing children from general circulation saved many, many lives. At the cost of education outcomes and some mental health issues, granted; but given a choice of death or a poorer education, I know what I would choose.

As the pandemic progressed, however, we suddenly had vaccines, we had mask mandates, etc. And the review confirms that vaccines, masks, and test-to-stay policies were, overall, the best methods to reduce the spread of COVID and to save lives (whatever the Feeedom Convoy may have you believe).

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