Despite omicron, most schools stay open after the holidays: NPR

A Hollywood, California classroom is empty in August 2020. At least 2,750 US schools have announced they are canceling in-person learning this week.

Rodin Eckenroth / Getty Images

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Rodin Eckenroth / Getty Images

A Hollywood, California classroom is empty in August 2020. At least 2,750 US schools have announced they are canceling in-person learning this week.

Rodin Eckenroth / Getty Images

As the pandemic slips into a fifth school semester, U.S. leaders have less appetite than ever for schools to move away, even as cases – and with them, pediatric hospitalizations – increase. According to Burbio, an organization that tracks individual school and district websites, the vast majority of American schools remain open for in-person learning this week.

Still, Burbio reports that at least 2,750 schools across the country have announced they are canceling in-person learning. Some have announced closures for a week. This includes Atlanta and Fulton County in Georgia and Ann Arbor, Michigan. Others close for two weeks, including schools in Newark, Paterson and Elizabeth, NJ; Mount Vernon, New York; Pontiac, Michigan; and Prince George County in Maryland.

Most districts cited increasing cases, but principals in Greendale, Wisc., Told families they simply had too many staff in quarantine to keep the district open on Monday, and Pittsburgh is also closing a dozen individual schools due to understaffing.

Leaders are determined to keep schools open

Across the country, mayors, governors and the US Secretary of Education have spoken out strongly in favor of keeping schools open.

“Our expectation is that schools will be open full time for students for in-person learning,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona told Fox News on Sunday.

Meanwhile, some teachers’ unions are pushing for delays and tighter security measures. Some parents and students are also worried.

Kathryn Rose, a substitute teacher in Chicago public schools, was teaching at a high school on Monday. She said, “We opened the class by talking about how [the students] felt to be in the building. Many of them said they didn’t feel safe. “

The Chicago Teachers Union is expected to vote Tuesday on whether to start distance teaching on Wednesday – without the city’s permission.

New York City, home to the nation’s largest school district, reports about 31,000 cases per day. The head of the city’s teachers’ union, Michael Mulgrew, said in an open letter on Sunday that he had informed the mayor that a temporary remote return would be the safest solution.

No dice. Mayor Eric Adams, who was sworn in on New Years Day, began his first Monday in office with a press conference held at an elementary school in the Bronx. “We are really delighted with the opening of our schools,” he said. “And we want to be extremely clear: the safest place for our children is in a school building, and we are going to keep our schools open.”

Schools turn to vaccines, quarantines and modified tests, testing, testing

Compared to previous semesters, some schools are adjusting the way they use vaccines, tests, and masks to keep schools safe and open.

Vaccines are available for children from 5 years old. The FDA has also cleared the booster shots for certain immunocompromised children 5 to 11 years old and for all children 12 to 18 years old. New Orleans is at the forefront of districts in announcing a vaccination mandate for students as young as 5 years old, which goes into effect in February.

Schools are also increasingly relying on rapid tests, which produce results in as little as 15 minutes. These can be used both to detect cases and to keep children in school after exposure, as part of a protocol the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls “test to stay.” The governor of California has said the state will send 6 million of these tests to schools. New York State officials are sending 3-3.5 million, including 2 million kits, to schools in New York City. Connecticut provides 2 million tests to schools; and Massachusetts over 227,000.

While these numbers are important, they are nowhere near enough to test everyone several times a week, which is the protocol adopted at some workplaces and private schools.

Public health experts are also advising people to upgrade their masks. Los Angeles County is telling school staff to use medical grade masks, and New York City officials have said they will provide KN95 masks to school staff. But there have been few calls to replace cloth masks among students. And more than a third of the districts in Burbio’s sample of 500 large districts had no mask warrant.

Even where there are mask mandates, two lingering concerns are high school athletics – especially sports like wrestling – and lunchtime. Dr Danny Benjamin of the ABC Science Collaborative, who advises districts on safety protocols, said: “There will be a considerable amount of spread at lunchtime if people are not careful with the omicron.”

As the experts make their recommendations, Kathryn Rose, six months pregnant, says she will continue to attend class. Her three children too, all in Chicago public schools.

“Put the air purifier on turbo, wear your mask. I think it’s important to put the students in rooms together, to talk, to laugh, and to ask questions.”

She says it’s a calculated risk.

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