Omicron Surge hampers plans to reopen schools

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Parents of children at K-12 schools across the country were bracing for changes in plans to reopen after the holidays amid an increase in Covid-19 cases. Milwaukee has suspended its scheduled in-person reopening while Syracuse, NY, has canceled the school.

Milwaukee, which has around 71,000 students, decided to start distance education when classes resume on Tuesday because many teachers have tested positive for Covid-19, said Shahree Douglas, a spokesperson for the district. The goal is to open on Monday January 10, she said.

Syracuse has canceled the school due to an increase in staff cases and a lack of replacements to cover their absences, the district said on its website.

School district superintendents are evaluating how and when to reopen, a decision driven in part by the availability of tests. Superintendents have different tastes for risk and the level of enthusiasm of teachers to return to the classroom varies. Regional increases in pediatric hospitalizations for Covid-19 are contributing to differences across the country.

Unlike 2020, there is much broader support for continuing school in person in the wake of distance education’s grim toll on student mental health and learning loss.

“We have lost almost two years of education,” New York Mayor Eric Adams said in an ABC “This Week” interview Sunday. “We can’t do it again.”

In addition to vaccines, a strategy called test-to-stay is fueling educators’ hopes that the rest of this school year will be smoother than the last. Instead of being quarantined, students exposed to Covid-19 are tested regularly and can stay in school if they are negative. The policy is growing in popularity and has been hailed as effective by researchers.

Washington, DC and Baltimore are extending the winter vacation by two days to test staff and students before reopening the buildings on Jan.5. Chicago recommends that parents administer rapid tests to their children before returning to school. Nearly 2,200 schools have announced they will be closed as of Monday, according to Burbio, a Pelham, NY data company that monitors K-12 school closings in 5,000 districts across the country.

“We understand that there may be obstacles in the road tomorrow,” US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said on CBS ‘”Face The Nation” on Sunday. “Today, superintendents are getting phone calls learning that some of their schools may have 5-10% of their staff unavailable due to Covid-19. We therefore recognize that temporary emergency choices may be necessary to keep children safe. “

Other systems, such as Seattle Public Schools, are moving forward and pledging to remain flexible. Last week, the district announced that it had received 60,000 tests. He therefore canceled lessons on Monday to test the teachers. Classes will resume on Tuesday.

“We recognize that students learn best with teachers in the classroom and plan to keep students and staff in schools,” the district said on its website. “SPS is however positioned to move classrooms (or schools) to distance education, if necessary, at some point in January. “

To help fight Omicron, the Biden administration is opening more Covid-19 test sites and providing 500 million tests to Americans. Daniela Hernandez of the WSJ explains why testing is still a problem in the United States, two years after the start of the pandemic. Photographic illustration: David Fang

President Biden has pledged to make 500 million Covid-19 tests available to the public for free through a website to be launched in January. The timing of the delivery of these tests remains in question. Last week, Mr Biden told a meeting of governors that the federal government had not acted quickly enough.

Plans in some states have been thwarted by supply chain disruptions.

Massachusetts education officials last week pledged to provide 200,000 rapid home Covid-19 antigen tests to school districts across the state for teachers and staff so they can test themselves before they go. go back to school after the holidays. While supply chain issues delayed test delivery, schools were still scheduled to open.

A similar delay occurred in Connecticut after Governor Ned Lamont, a Democrat, said the state would distribute three million tests to the public. Then these tests did not arrive on time.

“I think we’ve got a head start,” Lamont told reporters last week. Some of the tests arrived on Friday, Mr Lamont tweeted.

The latest wave of Covid-19, fueled by the Omicron variant, has so far been concentrated in the northeast. Of most concern for schools is an increase in admissions to pediatric hospitals for Covid-19. In New York City, those cases quadrupled in December. In Washington, DC, they doubled. Nationally, they increased 66% over the past week, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

These regional pushes help explain why hundreds of districts have announced they will be teaching distance education through the middle of the month. In Mount Vernon, NY, Kenneth R. Hamilton, superintendent of schools, decided to suspend classroom instruction until Jan. 18 after seeing Broadway cancel performances and professional sports leagues postpone some games.

Students in New York at the end of last month before schools close for vacation.


Photo:

Brittainy Newman / Associated press

“I have been very reluctant to close schools, but given the current trends in Covid cases it would be risky not to do so,” Dr Hamilton wrote before the break on the school’s website. “The schools will reopen on Tuesday, January 18, 2022.”

A sign that the pandemic is heading for a new endemic chapter, the Neshaminy school district, outside of Philadelphia, will begin classes immediately after winter break but will stop contact tracing “because it is logistically impossible to do it with a reasonable expectation of validity, reliability or faithfulness, ”schools superintendent Rob McGee wrote on the district website. “I’m pretty sure there is something in the following that is going to upset just about everyone on the Covid continuum, whichever side you lean on,” said Dr McGee.

Last week, the CDC reduced the recommended number of days of isolation for people after being infected with Covid-19 from 10 to five days. Asymptomatic people can leave isolation after five days and should wear masks around other people for an additional five days, the CDC said.

This change is in line with the test model to remain CDC approved in December and has been rolled out in states like Massachusetts and California. But only 13 of the nation’s 100 largest districts had a policy of testing in place to stay before schools took a break, according to the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a Seattle-based research organization that tracks responses from schools to Covid-19.

The decision to go ahead with in-person schooling in the United States largely matches what others have done around the world.

Europe started seeing an increase in the Omicron variant several weeks ago. Authorities in Germany and Austria have pledged to keep schools open despite the upsurge in infections, after being criticized by experts and parents for closures during the early stages of the pandemic.

The UK government says keeping classrooms open is a priority and plans for schools to resume normal operations in January. Mass tests, air purifiers and former teachers are being deployed to ensure education is not compromised by the rapid spread of Omicron in the country.

Write to Douglas Belkin at [email protected]

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