Nearly one third of teachers (29.2%) in the United States are ages 50 and older, according to new research by the National Center for Education Statistics. Private schools have the largest share of teachers (nearly 37%) who are at least age 50, while 29 percent of traditional public school teachers and 21 percent of charter school teachers are ages 50 and older. Teachers have significantly more social contacts than the average adult because they closely interact with dozens of students throughout the day. And because older people are at elevated risk for severe illness from COVID-19, schools need to consider the risks for teachers—especially their most experienced teachers—as they consider reopening.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 92 percent of COVID-19 deaths in the United States were of people ages 55 and older, as of April 27, 2020. Furthermore, older adults have higher rates of COVID-19-associated hospitalizations than younger adults. As of April 18, 2020, 96 out of 100,000 adults ages 65 and older had been hospitalized with COVID-19-related symptoms, compared to 47 out of 100,000 adults ages 50-64 and 14 adults ages 18-49. While older adults are more likely to have chronic conditions that limit their bodies’ abilities to fight COVID-19, the immune system naturally deteriorates with age, so older adults without pre-existing conditions may also be at elevated risk.
Decision makers at state departments of education, charter management organizations, and private school administrators responsible for reopening schools should weigh not only the health of their students, but also that of their teachers who are at elevated risk. Education administrators who choose to proceed with reopening should coordinate closely with health agencies to enact policies to keep teachers, as well as students, safe.
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