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Schools opening and Covid-19 diffusion: Evidence from geolocalized microdata


Are schools triggering the diffusion of the Covid-19? This question is at the core of an extensive debate about the social and long-run costs of stopping the economic activity and human capital accumulation from reducing the contagion. In principle, many confounding factors, such as climate, health system treatment, and other forms of restrictions, may impede disentangling the link between schooling and Covid-19 cases when focusing on a country or regional-level data. This work sheds light on the potential impact of school opening on the upsurge of contagion by combining a weekly panel of geocoded Covid-19 cases in Sicilian census areas with a unique set of school data. The identification of the effect takes advantage of both a spatial and time-variation in school opening, stemming from the flexibility in opening dates determined by a Regional Decree, and by the occurrence of a national referendum, which pulled a set of poll-station schools towards opening earlier or later September 24th. The analysis finds that census areas where schools opened earlier observed a significant and positive increase in the growth rate of Covid-19 cases between 2.5–3.7%. This result is consistent across several specifications, including accounting for several determinants of school opening, such as the number of temporary teachers, Covid-19 cases in August, and pupils with special needs. Finally, the analysis finds lower effects in more densely populated areas, on younger population, and on smaller class size. The results imply that school reopening generated an increase of one third in cases.