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Indoor Dining and In-Person Learning Across Big City Health Coalition Cities

November 23, 2021

Guest blog post written by: Gabriella O’Leary, Alina S. Schnake-Mahl, Vaishnavi Vaidya, Usama Bilal, and Jennifer Kolker

With state and local policies differing on indoor dining decisions and with little national guidance to prevent the spread of COVID-19, we set out to better understand decisions around re-opening indoor dining and in-person learning. We reviewed indoor dining and in-person elementary school policy decisions in the fall and winter of 2020 across 30 of the largest cities in the US. This blog post summarizes our findings from our article recently published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Our analysis included descriptive data from the 30 cities that as of 2020-2021 were members of the Big Cities Health Coalition (BCHC), a coalition of the largest metropolitan health departments in the US. We found that re-opening dining was more common in cities across the country than re-opening in-person learning: indoor dining re-opened in fall 2020 in all 30 large US cities, but in-person learning resumed in public elementary schools in only 12 (40%) cities.

In-person learning is crucial for children’s educational and social development but there is debate in the literature about the COVID-19 risks associated with in-person learning. Importantly when mitigation measures are in place, these risks are reduced, and levels of transmission in schools follow those of the general community. For this reason, keeping community transmission levels low is a key strategy to be able to continue in-person learning for children. Additionally, indoor dining is high-risk and closing indoor dining venues is an effective measure to reduce COVID-19 incidence and mortality rates. Therefore, decisions about re-opening indoor dining directly affect risks for in-person learning. As we consider endemic COVID-19 and future pandemics, a retrospective analysis of policy decisions informs future responses as city and state governments assess the trade-offs between activities that are critical for society and non-essential businesses.

Read the full blog post here.