Hard Data From Sweden: Open primary schools throughout covid-19 pandemic resulted in preserved reading comprehension scores, with no “covid-19 morbidity/mortality penalty” in school children, or teachers

During the initial spring 2020 covid-19 wave in Sweden, Ludvigsson et al reported in the New England Journal of Medicine that while keeping schools open, there were ZERO covid-19 deaths among 1.95 million children who were between ages 1 and 16 years old (but 69 deaths due to other causes). Fifteen children were admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU; 0.77 per 100,000) for covid-19, 2 of whom had cancer, 1 chronic kidney disease, and another hematologic disease. Moreover, excluding health care workers, preschool teachers had no excess risk for covid-19 ICU admission (relative risk 1.10; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.49-2.49), while school teachers demonstrated an apparent lower risk for ICU hospitalization (relative risk 0.43; 95% CI, 0.28-0.68), compared to all other occupations.

Sadly, consistent with the ugly Lysenkoism that pervades contemporary “academic public health,” Dr. Ludvigsson was attacked with a venomous stupidity after the Ludvigsson et al research letter appeared online January 6, 2021.

Now we have the ultimate vindication for Sweden’s unhysterical, evidence-based, and righteous public health policy, vis-à-vis covid-19 and open schools. Evaluating some 100,000 Swedish primary school children from “248 different municipalities, 1277 schools and 5250 classrooms,”  Anna Eva Hallin et al, in a June 2, 2022 publication of the International Journal of Education Research, are reporting there was no decline in reading comprehension scores during the covid-19 pandemic, relative to pre-pandemic Swedish school children cohorts (i.e., comparing 2017-18; 2018-19; 2019-20; and 2020-21). This overall effect was also found in Swedish lower socioeconomic status school children.

The author’s conclusions, followed by the paper’s abstract and key tabulated results are highlighted below. Indeed Hallin et al appropriately cite the 2021 Ludvigsson et al research letter as confirmation that the maintenance of student reading comprehension skills was achieved with out any “covid-19 morbidity and mortality penalty.”


“Mitigating a pandemic in a global society has proven to be very challenging, and the different COVID-19 strategies will most likely be evaluated and discussed for years to come. We show that primary school students’ reading skills were not negatively affected by the pandemic when schools were kept open in Sweden, also in the more vulnerable groups who were disproportionally affected by the pandemic in other aspects of their lives (Sjogren et al., 2021). Importantly, this was not a trade-off between reading gains and sickness data from the first wave of the pandemic showed that the incidence of severe COVID-19 in preschool children and primary school students in Sweden was very low, even though schools were kept open (Ludvigsson et al., 2021). We conclude that there is no evidence of a learning loss regarding early reading skills in Swedish primary school students. We are of course not claiming that the COVID-19 pandemic did not have any negative effect on reading ability of any individual Swedish primary school student. But given that the overall student inclusion rates are so similar between years, that the proportion of students with word decoding scores of 1 SD below the mean or lower and the general distribution of test scores are stable across test periods and years, we conclude that Swedish primary school students’ reading skills stayed at a stable level during the pandemic. The same conclusion applies to students from more disadvantaged backgrounds. In the light of international studies on reading skills in younger students during the pandemic, we conclude that the decision to keep schools open benefitted Swedish primary school students. This decision might also have mitigated other potentially negative effects of school closures, especially for students from more disadvantaged backgrounds (UNESCO, 2021a)”

“In addition, the results of the present study did not indicate a learning loss for the subset of students from more disadvantaged backgrounds either, which both UNESCO and previous research show are especially at risk for learning disruptions in exceptional circumstances, such as school closures during a pandemic (Engzell et al., 2021; Maldonado & De Witte, 2021). Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, students across the globe were affected by sudden and radical changes in all areas of their life, but the big difference for Swedish students was that the schools did not close, thus providing a stable foundation for everyday life during the pandemic, also for the more vulnerable groups of students.”

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