Some school systems in the United States extended their vacation on Monday or returned to online education due to the explosion in COVID-19 cases, while others continued with in-person classes amid a apparently growing sense that Americans will have to learn to co-exist with the virus.
Caught between calls from teachers fearing the infection and parents wanting their kids to be in class, school districts in cities like New York City, Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit and beyond have found themselves in a difficult position in the middle of the school year due to the omicron variant.
New York City, home to the nation’s largest school system, has reopened classrooms to around 1 million students with a supply of COVID-19 test kits to take home and plans to double the number of random tests carried out in schools.
The FDA on Monday expanded recall eligibility for COVID-19 for children as young as 12 years old. The CDC has yet to decide whether to recommend a third dose for younger teens before they’re available.
“We are going to be safe and we will be open to educating our children,” newly sworn-in mayor Eric Adams said on MSNBC.
New Yorker Trisha White said she believes the risk is the same for her 9-year-old in and out of school and that being with classmates is much better for him than distance learning.
“He could catch the virus outside of school,” she said, dropping the boy off. “So what can you do? You know, I wouldn’t blame the school system. They’re doing their best.
While the teachers’ union had asked the mayor to postpone the in-person learning by a week, city officials have long said requirements for masks, testing and other safety measures mean children are safe at school. The city also has a vaccination mandate for employees.
New cases of COVID-19 in the city have fallen from a daily average of around 17,000 the week before the holidays to nearly 37,000 last week.
In the United States, new cases of COVID-19 have tripled in the past two weeks to more than 400,000 a day, the highest level on record, as many Americans rush to get tested.
High infection rates and the resulting worker shortages place a heavy burden on employers large and small. Thousands of airline flights have been canceled in recent days and many companies have suspended return-to-work plans.
Weekend garbage collection has been delayed in New Orleans and jury trials in several Colorado counties have been suspended. Some libraries on Long Island in New York and one ski resort in New Hampshire had to close.
Dawn Crawley, CEO of House Cleaning Heroes, a cleaning service based in Herndon, Va., Said she had to cancel four of 20 cleaning jobs for Tuesday because four employees were sick – three with COVID-19.
“The fear is that it will cross the team” as well as the customers, she said.
Policy makers and health authorities have been aware of the negative consequences for the economy and the education system.
Public health experts have said eradicating the virus is unlikely and the world will instead have to find a way to keep COVID-19 at an acceptable level, as it does with the flu.
Last week, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reduced the recommended isolation period for COVID-19 from 10 days to five, CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said, “We want to make sure that there is a mechanism by which we can safely continue to operate society while following science.
In another development on Monday that could impact schools’ ability to stay open, the Food and Drug Administration approved Pfizer recalls for children as young as 12. Recalls are already recommended for all ages 16 and over.
Elsewhere in the country, the Los Angeles Unified School District announced Monday that schools will now reopen on Jan.11 due to the omicron hike. In addition, the district’s 600,000 students and approximately 73,000 employees will be required to present a negative COVID-19 test result to enter campus. The district will have a test site as well as take-home test kits.
Syracuse, New York, canceled school on Monday due to growing infections and a lack of substitute teachers.
In Wisconsin, the Milwaukee school system, which has 75,000 students, reverted to virtual instruction on Tuesday due to increased cases among staff members. The district announced plans to resume in-person classes on January 10.
The District of Madison, Wisconsin, also announced a switch to virtual learning, starting Thursday.
Detroit School Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told parents there would be no in-person or online learning until Wednesday due to a high rate of infection among employees who could lead to a widespread spread of COVID-19 and “an excessive staff shortage”.
The approximately 350,000 students in the Chicago school system have returned, but a dispute between district leaders and the teachers’ union over safety measures could disrupt classes later this week. The union said it could vote for distance education on Tuesday in the country’s third largest district.
The District of Peoria, Ill., Has extended winter vacations by one week.
Schools in Davenport, Iowa, surprised parents early Monday by announcing the cancellation of all classes for the day due to a shortage of bus drivers blamed at least in part on COVID-19.
Educators in Minnesota braced for a spike in cases as classrooms reopened as scheduled.
“What I’ve heard from the superintendents is that they’re nervous about omicron,” said Bob Indihar, executive director of the Minnesota Rural Education Association. “It looks like this is the new normal that changes will happen and that quarantines and exits of people are now just part of the process. Districts are sort of taking it in stride. “
The president of the National Parents Union, a network of parenting organizations, called the sudden return to e-learning an “abomination.”
“Once again, parents are scrambling at the last minute and, even worse, far too many children are deprived of a learning experience in person, which is essential for their academic and socio-emotional development,” Keri Rodrigues said in a statement. .
Peltz reported from New York. Ehlke reported from Milwaukee. Tang reported from San Jose, Calif. Associated Press editors Margery Beck in Omaha, Nebraska; Anne D’Innocenzio in New York; Michael Hill in Albany, New York; Kevin McGill in New Orleans; Rick Callahan in Indianapolis; Sophia Tareen in Chicago; Jennifer Sinco Kelleher in Honolulu; and Corey Williams in Detroit contributed to this report.
__ This story corrects that the garbage collection in New Orleans was delayed, not suspended.