While the closure of schools is unavoidable under physical distance measures now being undertaken across the world, it can also have some unintended effects. It has led to increased absenteeism of healthcare workers due to childcare needs. A study published in The Lancet Public Health assessed how their contribution could have reduced mortality, comparing this against the reduction of cases due to social distancing.
The research team used data from the US Current Population Survey to assess the family structure and childcare options in a healthcare worker’s household. They took into account important factors like state, household structure, and occupation within the sector to identify workers who have to handle child-care obligations arising from school closures. This data was used to compare with the impact of healthcare labor supply in increasing the survival rate of a Covid-19 patient.
In all, the survey contained information on 1·3 million households with 3·1 million people. The data revealed that in the US, healthcare workers have very high child-care obligations. 28·8 percent have care obligations for children between 3 to 12 years. Even accounting for another family member taking care of small children, at least 15 percent would still be the primary carers. The study estimated that a rise of 15 percent absenteeism in the healthcare labor force could lead to a loss of survival rates by 17.6 percent.
According to the research model, if the infection mortality rates jump from 2 percent to 2·35 percent, a 15 percent decline of the workforce could lead to higher cumulative deaths.