Mixed evidence on the relationship between school closure and COVID-19 prevalence could reflect focus on large-scale levels of geography, limited ability to address endogeneity, and demographic variation. Using county-level Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 data through June 15, 2020, two matching strategies address potential heterogeneity: nearest geographic neighbor and propensity scores. Within nearest neighboring pairs in different states with different school closure timing, each additional day from a county’s first case until state-ordered school closure is related to 1.5 to 2.4 percent higher cumulative COVID-19 deaths per capita (1,227–1,972 deaths for a county with median population and deaths/capita). Results are consistent using propensity score matching, COVID-19 data from two alternative sources, and additional sensitivity analyses. School closure is more strongly related to COVID-19 deaths in counties with a high concentration of Black or poor residents, suggesting schools play an unequal role in transmission and earlier school closure is related to fewer lives lost in disadvantaged counties.
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