This paper examines the effect of fall 2020 school reopenings in Texas on county-level COVID19 cases and fatalities. Previous evidence suggests that schools can be reopened safely if community spread is low and public health guidelines are followed. However, in Texas, reopenings often occurred alongside high community spread and at near capacity, likely making it difficult to meet social distancing recommendations. Using event-study models and hand-collected instruction modality and start dates for all school districts, we find robust evidence that reopening Texas schools gradually but substantially accelerated the community spread of COVID-19. Results from our preferred specification imply that school reopenings led to at least 43,000 additional COVID-19 cases and 800 additional fatalities within the first two months. We then use SafeGraph mobility data to provide evidence that spillovers to adults’ behaviors contributed to these large effects. Median time spent outside the home on a typical weekday increased substantially in neighborhoods with large numbers of school-age children, suggesting a return to in-person work or increased outside-of-home leisure activities among parents.
Working Paper Number
Working Paper 40
Courtemanche, Charles J.; Le, Anh; Yelowitz, Aaron; and Zimmer, Ron, "School Reopenings, Mobility, and COVID-19 Spread: Evidence from Texas" (2021). Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise Working Papers. 39.
JEL Codes: I18, I28