(CNN) — Another record-setting day amid a resurgence of Covid-19 cases has forced states to revisit contingency plans to safely reopen US schools.
With the US school system in an upheaval since the pandemic began, several governors are beginning to take sides in the debate between national leaders pushing for children to attend classes in person and local officials hesitant to congregate students before it is safe.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has put out guidelines for reopening schools and will soon release more tools to help administrations and parents make decisions, but it is ultimately up to the school districts to decide what is the safest course of action for them, director Robert Redfield told CNN’s Anderson Cooper Thursday night.
“We all want to protect the safety of the children that are in schools,” Redfield said. “There’s really a public health crisis we are paying by not having these schools open and I think we really need to get that balance.”
Thursday brought 60,646 new cases a record number in a single day, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The new high comes as many states set records in infection rates and hospitalizations and 33 states saw an increase in new cases reported compared to last week.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer told reporters the numbers will determine if the state has to go back a phase in its reopening plan, in which case students may not return to the classroom as they currently plan to.
Arkansas has pushed the first day of school back from August 13 to 24 to give districts time to adjust to a blended learning plan, Gov. Asa Hutchinson told reporters Thursday.
In Florida, where there are particularly high instances of new cases and hospitalizations, Gov. Ron DeSantis weighed the increase of cases against the education gap that can come from students learning at home. If Home Depot and Walmart can be open, so can schools, he said.
And though the American Academy of Pediatrics ultimately wants students to be back in school, Florida’s statewide mandate to reopen schools goes against their recommendations, President Dr. Sally Goza said in an interview on NPR’s Morning Edition Wednesday.
“We know that it has to be safe, and we know that we have to try to decrease that transmission as much as we can,” Goza said.
Staggering numbers show the pandemic is not over for the US
Although states have relaxed restrictions and more people have gathered in public spaces, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert has been warning Americans throughout the week that the nation is still “knee deep” in the first wave.
“We’ve never really gotten out of it,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said in an interview with SiriusXM Doctor Radio airing on Friday.
North Carolina set a record Thursday for the highest number of hospitalizations and posted the second highest number of cases for the state, Gov. Roy Cooper said.
“We’re continuing to watch with concern as COVID cases and hospitalizations increase,” he said. “And though North Carolina isn’t a surging hotspot like some other states, we could be if we don’t stay strong in our fight.”
Texas and California set their own grim record with the highest number of coronavirus deaths in a day since the pandemic began. And Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott does not anticipate next week will bring any relief for the state.
“I think the numbers are going to look worse as we go into next week, and we need to make sure that there’s going to be plenty of hospital beds available in the Houston area,” Abbott said in an interview with KRIV-TV.
Experts say the US can stay open, but it has to be strategic
While it’s impossible to maintain stringent coronavirus restrictions and return to a sense of normalcy, there is a middle ground, Fauci said.
“Rather than think in terms of reverting back down to a complete shutdown, I would think we need to get the states pausing in their opening process. Looking at what did not work well and try to mitigate that,” the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease told The Hill’s Editor-at-Large Steve Clemons.
The all or nothing approach to socialization, and in Florida’s case reopening too fast, contributed to the return of the virus, Fauci said on Podcast-19, FiveThirtyEight’s weekly podcast on Covid-19.
“There are some governors and mayors that did it perfectly correctly,” he said. “But what happened is that many of the citizenry, said, ‘You know, well, I’m either going to be locked down or I’m going to let it all rip.'”
Fauci has stressed the risk in congregating, and he recommended Thursday that the nation reevaluate recommendations on when to reopen bars and indoor restaurants, saying they pose one of the “real problems.”
Even with the restrictions currently in place, only half of Nevada’s bars were found to be in compliance, said Gov. Steve Sisolak. As of 11:59 p.m. local time on Friday, bars in certain counties will be returning to similar restrictions laid out in Phase 1 of the state’s reopening plan.
Precautions become mandates in ‘a fight for our lives’
Also in the fight against rising numbers, local leaders are moving from encouraging precautions like masks to mandating them.
At least 36 states plus DC and Puerto Rico have some type of mask requirement order in place, and some cities require their use even when their states don’t.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves made masks mandatory Thursday for the 13 counties seeing the greatest spikes in
of coronavirus cases. Businesses will not be required to shut down, but social distancing will also be required in those counties.
“Mississippi is in a fight for our lives,” he said.
And for those fearing that taking precautions to prevent the spread of coronavirus would have a negative impact on local economies, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis told reporters Thursday that wearing a mask saves both lives and businesses from shutting down.
“If you are waiting to wear a mask until the Governor tells you to,” Polis said, “I hope you’ve heard that I’m telling you, and I’ve made it clear. Wear a d*** mask.”
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