Most public schools across the country are forging ahead undeterred with plans to bring children back to class on Monday, despite a record-breaking spread of COVID-19 that’s forcing business shutdowns.
“Your children are safer in school, the numbers speak for themselves,” Eric Adams, who is now New York City mayor, told reporters at a press conference last week.
New York City, which has the nation’s largest school district, plans to keep kids in classrooms without a remote online option and is about to ramp up testing while they’re there. Meanwhile, businesses are taking stricter measures. The city’s Apple stores have severely limited most interactions to online order pickups only. Dozens of restaurants remain closed.
Jessica Cimini, who teaches science at a middle school in Staten Island, aired her frustrations online by writing to the public school system and mayor.
“My town in NJ just went remote but NYC is still business as usual?? So my son is safe and my husband is safe until I walk into a Covid infected school building in nyc on Monday. Thanks for not caring,” she tweeted on Saturday.
South Florida, home to two of the nation’s 10 largest districts, is expanding restrictions on grown-ups while young children who largely haven’t yet been vaccinated remain exposed. As of Monday, Miami-Dade County public schools will mandate masks for all adults—but not kids. It’s worse in neighboring Broward County, where the school board held an emergency meeting last week to create a rule forcing masks on any school visitors—but the board couldn’t agree on a requirement for teachers and their students.
Meanwhile, some school districts in Georgia, Ohio, New Jersey, and Michigan, among others, have either postponed their return following the holiday break or announced a temporary shift to remote learning.
The severity of the threat appears to be manifesting itself differently in the business sector. More than 100 flights out of South Floridawere canceled in recent days, and the Centers for Disease Control has issued a stark warning to avoid all cruise ships.
All signs point to the Omicron coronavirus variant tearing through the country’s population during these weeks, in the aftermath of record-breaking shopping and a surge in holiday travel. Florida just reached an all-time high, reporting the largest single-day increase in COVID cases on New Year’s Eve. Nationwide, the CDC has tallied 2.2 million new cases of the disease in the past week, with more than a tenth in Florida alone. And despite the lower mortality rate of the new variant, another 7,704 people died across the country in that time, adding to the 820,355 total deaths since the start of the pandemic.
Major business interests have reacted with caution. Google, Intel, Microsoft, and other large tech companies have cancelled plans to send employees to Las Vegas next week for the Consumer Electronics Show, the world’s largest technology conference. Editors at the tech news outlet CNET made a last-minute decision to not send journalists either. At least two gun companies, Kimber Manufacturing and Sig Sauer, have quietly decided to not attend the firearms industry’s massive annual Shot Show business conference later this month, according to a person familiar with both companies’ plans. Neither gun maker responded to a request for comment on Saturday.
School systems are largely driven to remain open by frustrated parents, concerns over learning loss, and the general stance from the medical community that children and vaccinated individuals are less affected by COVID symptoms and face a smaller risk of severe illness. However, there’s still no government-approved vaccine for children under 5 years old. And only about 15 percent of the nation’s elementary school kids have been fully vaccinated, according to CDC data reviewed by The Daily Beast.
The Biden administration, however, has also pushed for kids to remain in the classroom, emphasizing the “test to stay” approach earlier this month, which allows children who have potentially been exposed to the virus to stay in class provided they test negative at least twice in the week after exposure.
Alongside the push to keep schools open, the Biden administration’s chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has also underscored the continuing threat of COVID to everyone’s health.
“Long COVID can happen no matter what virus variant occurs,” Dr. Fauci told Spectrum News last week. “There's no evidence that there's any difference between delta or beta or now omicron.”
School districts everywhere are depending heavily on relentless testing to monitor the spread of the virus in order to figure out which kids need to stay home. But the steep rise in demand—along with the lack of coordination and planning by health agencies—has left pharmacy shelves empty. Some shoppers are hoarding at-home tests, while thousands more are getting into long lines outside clinics.
In Boston, when test kits weren’t delivered on time, the local teachers union pleaded for the school board to keep schools to keep schools closed at least one more day to ensure employees could check if they got COVID-19 before returning to work with children. But their calls were rejected by state education officials, according to The Boston Globe.
The odd one out seems to be Seattle, where the local district managed to get 60,000 rapid tests and decided to keep schools closed on Jan. 3 to give staff and students time to take them, according to The Seattle Times.
Los Angeles County’s public health director, Barbara Ferrer, laid out the grim expectations at a press briefing on Thursday.
“We did really, really well at schools in the fall,” she said, according to The L.A. Times. “But that will not be the case as we come back, because we do, in fact, have the Omicron variant circulating much more widely.”