Pandemics are low frequency events and we can learn much about the social costs of this events through historical analyses. For example, the first major polio epidemic in the United States struck in the summer of 1916 and persisted into the fall. With over 23,000 cases of polio diagnosed, the epidemic tested the nascent system of public health departments. In many ways the 1916 pandemic parallels the current COVID-19 crisis, albeit at a smaller scale. Officials engaged in a variety of measures to stem the outbreak, including quarantines, washing streets, and closing public schools. I explore the effect of massive school closures at the start of the school year for children in 1916. I find cohort-wide reductions in educational attainment and these suggest that public quarantines, school closures, and parental fear magnified the social cost of the 1916 poliomyelitis pandemic.
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