England Will Go Into National Lockdown Amid Covid-19 Surge

Britain Put On Lockdown For Amid Coronavirus “National Emergency” – Deadline

TOPLINE

England will enter a national lockdown until at least mid-February to stem the spread of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Monday, as the so-called U.K. variant continues to spread throughout the country.

KEY FACTS

Coronavirus is again surging in the U.K. because of a new, more transmissible mutation of Covid-19 called B.1.1.7.

The lockdown will close all non-essential businesses and restaurants will be required to limit service to takeout orders.

Schools will be closed to all students except for the children of essential workers.

Johnson’s announcement comes after Scotland imposed a similar lockdown earlier Monday.

This is a developing story.

Economists nervously watching pandemic for signs of further financial impacts

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/11/23/finance-202-economists-nervously-watching-pandemic-signs-further-financial-impacts/

BLINKING RED: This is a critical week in the coronavirus pandemicEconomists are nervously watching as much of the nation experiences a worsening fall wave, with U.S. case counts near 200,000 a day and record hospitalizations in many parts of the country, my colleagues Paulina Firozi, Lena H. Sun and Hannah Knowles report

Whether a crest arrives soon could largely be determined by the Thanksgiving holiday, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and health experts warn against traveling and many of the once commonplace rituals of family gatherings. 

  • Early data doesn’t look great: More than 1 million people went through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints in the nation’s airports on Friday — that’s the second-highest single-day rush since March 16. Meanwhile, nearly 80 percent of epidemiologists surveyed recently by the New York Times said they were having Thanksgiving celebrations with people only in their households or not at all.
  • One bright spotA third vaccine, made by AstraZeneca, is 90 percent effective if administered in two doses (a half-dose followed by a full-dose booster) and is easier to store than vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna, my colleagues reported this morning. 
  • “The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is likely to be cheaper than those made by Pfizer and Moderna, and it does not need to be stored at subzero temperatures but can be kept in ordinary refrigerators in pharmacies and doctor’s offices,” they wrote.

U.S. coronavirus hotspots far outpacing Europe’s

America’s coronavirus outbreak has surpassed Europe’s.

Why it mattersIt wasn’t long ago that public health experts were pointing to Europe as a warning sign for the U.S. But the U.S. now has a higher per capita caseload than the EU ever has during its recent surge.

By the numbers: As of Saturday, 15 states had higher per capita caseloads, averaged over seven days, than the European country with the highest caseload — Luxembourg.

  • The U.S. overall saw 52.4 cases per 100,000 people. The EU saw 37.6 per 100,000 on Saturday, and peaked at 46.7 cases per 100,000 on Nov. 8.

The big pictureEurope’s steady rise in coronavirus cases over the last couple of months prompted many countries to bring back lockdowns or other strict behavioral restrictions.

  • Meanwhile, in the U.S., some of the hardest-hit states — like Iowa — are just now adopting mask mandates, and airports over the weekend were packed with people traveling for Thanksgiving.

Yes, but: Cases in the hardest-hit states are starting to trend down, a sign that people are modifying their behavior on their own.

What we’re watching: There’s no sign that the number of U.S. cases nationally is going to stop rising anytime soon, especially in the absence of strong federal or state restrictions.

  • Hospitalizations and deaths lag behind cases by a few weeks. That means that Europe likely has easier days ahead, while America’s dark days are just getting started.
  • In the U.S., today’s overwhelmed hospitals will continue to keep getting hit with ever-growing caseloads for awhile.

Go deeper: See all U.S. states’ and EU countries’ per capita caseloads.

At least 247,000 people have died from coronavirus in the U.S.

(The Washington Post, as of 3:55 p.m. Eastern)

At least 11,357,000 cases have been reported.

The disease caused by the novel coronavirus has killed at least 247,000 people in the United States since February and has enveloped nearly every part of the country.

As health officials long predicted, autumn brought soaring case counts, strained hospital capacity and increased deaths nationwide, as the virus is not only popping up in new places but also circling back to areas that once appeared to have it contained. Nearly all metrics in most of the country are trending in the wrong direction.

During an April peak, the seven-day-average U.S. death toll hit more than 2,000 per day, but cases were concentrated largely in the Northeast. During a July lull, average deaths sank to a low of 463 per day, although cases surged in the Sun Belt.

By early November, however, the country was recording more new cases than ever — well over 100,000 per day — and many states reported record-high caseloads and hospitalizations. The average U.S. deaths per day again shot past 1,000, despite improvements in treatment that make survival more likely.

In the past week in the U.S….New daily reported cases rose 26% New daily reported deaths rose 13.5% Covid related hospitalizations  rose 23.9%.

Among reported tests, the positivity rate was 10%.

The number of tests reported rose 9.6%  from the previous week.

Numbers in this article have fluctuated as testing and reporting criteria have evolved, particularly in areas that were hit early. Three spikes in the deaths chart above reflect large, one-time adjustments: In mid-April, New York City added more than 3,700 deaths. New Jersey added more than 1,800 on June 25. And in September, The Post changed its methodology for reporting deaths in New York and added a one-day increase of more than 2,700 on Sept. 18.

Health officials, including the country’s top infectious disease expert, Anthony S. Fauci, have said the virus has killed more people than official death tolls indicate.

No longer concentrated solely in a few urban areas or in nursing homes, prisons and factories, the virus seems to flourish wherever people let down their guard.

New York, which was slammed with the new disease in spring and where at least 33,000 have died, is one of several states experiencing a second or even third wave.

Sun Belt states had serious outbreaks after Memorial Day when people flocked to beaches. By late summer, parts of the Midwest were inundated. In August and September, clusters appeared in newly reopened college campuses, particularly in the Northeast and Midwest. By October, Upper Midwest, Great Plains and Western states that had previously been mostly spared were reporting major outbreaks, including MinnesotaWisconsinArkansasthe Dakotas and Alaska.

In November, most states reported record-high case counts and greater demand for hospital beds. Several set records for single-day fatalities.

In the absence of a federal plan, containment strategies vary by state and locality and have often reflected political polarization. The mounting crush of cases this fall, however, has prompted officials of both parties to tighten mask mandatesreimpose restrictions on gatherings and discourage holiday travel and gatherings to try to squelch the spread.

A majority of states and many retail chains required masks in public places by late July, and public health officials touted them as one of the easiest ways to stop the pandemic. Still, some people in even the hardest-hit areas refuse to wear them, despite evidence that they protect wearers and those around them.

People older than 65 and those with obesity and underlying health problems are the mostly likely to die from covid-19, but a large percentage of infections occur in younger, more mobile people. People younger than 40 tend to become less sick but also unknowingly may pass the disease to others around them.

The virus rarely kills children, although researchers have linked it to a mysterious and deadly inflammatory syndrome.

Outbreaks of covid-19 have hit Black, Hispanic and Native American communities particularly hard.

Sparsely populated areas don’t have the huge raw numbers that cities have reported, but some rank among the highest in deaths and cases per capita.

By late October, covid-19 had been documented in all but three U.S. counties and areas in Montana, the Dakotas and Idaho had some of the highest per capita caseloads.

People in very rural areas may be more vulnerable to covid-19 than urbanites, according to a Post analysis of CDC data.

Testing was slow to begin in the United States, and a system has yet to be standardized.

Demand has often overwhelmed testing infrastructure, muddying the ability of officials to get a true picture of the virus’s reach. In June, CDC Director Robert Redfield estimated that, based on antibody tests, the actual number of U.S. residents who had been infected by the virus was likely to be 10 times as high as the number of confirmed cases. More recently, conflicting CDC guidelines about whether people without symptoms should be tested caused confusion and inhibited contact tracing.

A sharp increase in hospitalizations in late October and November demonstrates that the virus is spreading, not just that more testing is finding more asymptomatic cases. A group of Illinois health-care workers predicted in a Nov. 10 open letter to state and Chicago officials that “Illinois will surpass its ICU bed capacity by Thanksgiving.”

Some hospitals, straining to find beds and health-care workers to handle the crush of patients, are considering unusual measures.

In North Dakota, health-care workers who test positive but have no symptoms can continue working in covid-19 wards, according to Gov. Doug Burgum (R). Some facilities in Oklahoma, Kansas and Ohio are limiting routine care and deferring non-emergency surgeries.

Not all news is bleak, however.

On Nov. 9, Pfizer announced that its promising vaccine — one of many in the works — appeared more than 90 percent effective in an ongoing trial. The same day, regulators granted emergency authorization to an antibody treatment that may keep mild illness from becoming severe.

And the next day, Fauci told CNN that the average American may have access to a vaccine by April.

Dr. Fauci on COVID surge

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, tells CBS Evening News anchor and managing editor Norah O’Donnell that Americans need to “double down” on mask-wearing and social distancing to help control a surge in new coronavirus cases.

He also spoke about President Trump’s recovery from COVID-19, progress towards a vaccine, and how the pandemic will affect this year’s holiday gatherings. Watch the full interview.

Experts Slam The White House’s ‘Herd Immunity’ Plan

Experts warn Trump's misinformation about coronavirus is dangerous

The White House is reportedly embracing a herd-immunity approach focused on “protecting the elderly and the vulnerable” but experts are calling the plan dangerous, “unethical”, and equivalent to “mass murder”.

The news comes following a petition titled The Great Barrington Declaration, which argued against lockdowns and school and business closures and got almost 500,000 signatures – although some of them were fake.

“Current lockdown policies are producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health,” the declaration states, adding, “The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity, is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk. We call this Focused Protection.”

Essentially, herd immunity is when enough people are immune to a disease, like Covid-19, that the disease can’t be transmitted as easily and thus provides indirect protection.

It’s been rumoured that the government has been leaning towards this plan of action for some time now, although this is the first real admission.

In response to today’s news, experts around the world have been voicing their concerns.

And this isn’t the first time we’ve heard experts say herd immunity is not a good idea.

For example, the head of the World Health Organization said Monday that allowing the novel coronavirus to spread in an attempt to reach herd immunity was “simply unethical.”

Similarly, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) director Francis Collins also denounced herd immunity as a viable plan.

“What I worry about with this is it’s being presented as if it’s a major alternative view that’s held by large numbers of experts in the scientific community. That is not true. This is a fringe component of epidemiology. This is not mainstream science. It fits into the political views of certain parts of our confused political establishment,” he said in an interview.

Not to mention studies continue to show that Sweden’s attempts at herd immunity have failed and have resulted in a higher Covid-19 death toll than expected.

As more research comes out, scientists are starting to learn that Covid-19 immunity, even in those who were severely infected, can fade after a few weeks.

This is why we’ve seen cases of reinfection and why many experts are advising against a herd immunity plan.  

Currently less than 10% of the population in the U.S. are immune to Covid-19 but for herd immunity to be achieved most experts estimate between 40% to 80% of the population would need to be infected.

To put that into context, that means around 197 million people would need to be infected in America. And assuming that the Covid-19 fatality rate is somewhere between 0.5% and 1%, based on numbers from the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 1 million people would die – at minimum.

William Haseltine, Chair and President of ACCESS Health International, told CNN “herd immunity is another word for mass murder. We are looking at two to six million Americans dead – not just this year but every year.”  

This is an unmitigated disaster for our country – to have people at the highest levels of our government countermanding our best public health officials. We know this epidemic can be put under control. Other countries have done it. We are doing the opposite.”

America’s newest wave of Covid-19 cases, explained

https://www.vox.com/coronavirus-covid19/2020/10/11/21511641/covid-19-us-cases-update-testing-deaths-hospitalizations

A new wave of Covid-19 cases is building across the United States, a harbinger of difficult winter months ahead.

America is now averaging nearly 48,000 new confirmed cases every day, the highest numbers since mid-August, according to the Covid Tracking Project. More than 34,500 Americans are currently hospitalized with Covid-19 in the US, up from less than 30,000 a week ago. Nearly 700 new deaths are being reported on average every day, too — and while that is down from August, when there were often more than 1,000 deaths a day, deaths are going to eventually start increasing if cases and hospitalizations continue to rise. It’s a pattern we have seen before.

Public health experts have been warning for months that fall and winter could lead to a spike in Covid-19 cases. Why? Because the best way to slow down the coronavirus’s spread is to keep your distance from other people and, if you are going to be around others, to be outside as much as possible — and both become harder when the weather gets cold.

We may now be seeing those predictions start to come true. The US already has more than 7.7 million confirmed cases and 214,000 deaths. Both numbers will continue to climb.

Eight months into the pandemic, America’s failures to contain Covid-19, and states’ eagerness to reopen even if they haven’t gotten their outbreaks under control, is once again leading to a surge in cases and hospitalizations.

Covid-19 cases are rising everywhere across the country

Earlier in the year, there was limited value to discussing “waves” because some states would have a decline in cases while other states were experiencing surges. What distinguishes this autumn wave is that it seems to be happening everywhere.

Case numbers are up in the Northeast, the Midwest, and the West. The South appears to be, at best, plateauing at a level even higher than that which the Northeast endured during the worst of New York’s outbreak.

What’s so worrisome is that no one state or region can be blamed for this new wave. Just 13 states have seen their number of new Covid-19 cases drop over the last two weeks, according to Covid Exit Strategy. Cases are up in all the others.

Raw case numbers can, of course, obscure important differences in population; 100 new cases means something different for California than it does for Wyoming. Experts will use another metric — new cases per million people — to gauge how saturated a given state is with Covid-19.

The goal would be to have fewer than 40 new cases per million people. But just three states — Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire — meet that threshold. Meanwhile, North Dakota (627 cases per million), South Dakota (596), Montana (474), and Wisconsin (434) are some of the states seeing very high levels of new infections.

As Vox’s German Lopez reported this week, just one state — Maine — meets all of the benchmarks established by experts for a state to consider its Covid-19 outbreak contained. And yet, most states have reopened many of the businesses that were closed in the spring: 40 or so states have reopened restaurants, bars, gyms, movie theaters, and nonessential retail.

“Part of the problem is America never really suppressed its Covid-19 cases to begin with,” Lopez wrote, explaining why experts were anticipating a new surge in cases. “Think of a disease epidemic like a forest fire: It’s going to be really difficult to contain the virus when there are still flames raging in parts of the forest and small embers practically everywhere. The country always risks a full blaze with each step toward reopening and with each failure to take precautions seriously.”

Too many Covid-19 tests are coming back positive right now

Another closely watched indicator for renewed Covid-19 spread is the percentage of coronavirus tests that come back positive. The number of tests being conducted doesn’t actually tell you all that much; if a high percentage of them are positive, that suggests that many others aren’t being caught at all and the virus could continue to spread unchecked.

So while the US is now averaging nearly 1 million tests every day, that is not quite the triumph it might sound like (or President Donald Trump would like to believe it is). The country’s positive test rate is 5 percent, right at the threshold experts say would reflect adequate testing. Ideally, it would be even lower, 2 percent or less.

But even with that passable national positivity rate, most states are still not conducting nearly enough testing. Here are the 10 states with the highest positive test rates, according to Covid Exit Strategy:

  1. Idaho (25 percent)
  2. South Dakota (20.6 percent)
  3. Wisconsin (19.5 percent)
  4. Iowa (17.1 percent)
  5. Kansas (16.1 percent)
  6. Wyoming (15.5 percent)
  7. Utah (14.7 percent)
  8. Nevada (14.4 percent)
  9. Indiana (13.6 percent)
  10. Alabama (13.3 percent)

It’s really only a handful of better-performing states — namely, New York, with more than 115,000 tests conducted per day and a 1.2 percent positivity rate — that’s keeping the US’s overall positive test rate from looking a lot worse.

America has never had a cohesive Covid-19 testing strategy. Since February, there have been regular supply shortages delaying test results. States have been fighting each other for precious testing resources. Contact tracing has not been a priority for the federal government, and most states have still not hired nearly enough people to perform that work.

Wealthy countries like Germany and South Korea have used effective test-trace-isolate programs to keep their Covid-19 outbreaks in check. The US, meanwhile, is still struggling to perform enough tests or scale up its contact tracing capabilities. Just 11 states, plus the District of Columbia, could realistically expect to perform adequate contact tracing, according to Covid Exit Strategy, considering their positivity rate.

Without improvement in both of those areas, it will continue to be difficult for the US to contain the coronavirus before a vaccine becomes available.

More Americans are being hospitalized with Covid-19 too

Both case numbers and the positive test rate can be a little deceptive, depending on how many tests are being performed. They suggest what’s happening on the ground — in this case, Covid-19 is spreading — but they do have their limitations. There is some truth to the president’s claim that more tests will mean more cases, though that is not a reason to stop testing.

Hospitalizations, on the other hand, are more concrete. If more people are developing symptoms severe enough to warrant being hospitalized, that is a strong indicator that the real number of people being infected with Covid-19 is growing, regardless of whether they are getting tested.

And after a dip in September, the number of Americans currently in the hospital with Covid-19 is higher than it’s been in a month. That trend has been seen across the country.

The worry becomes that if hospitals take in too many patients, they’ll have to turn other people away, or that overwhelmed staff and facilities could lead to some patients receiving substandard care. According to Covid Exit Strategy, 20 states currently have reduced ICU capacity that puts them in a danger zone; 21 states have an elevated occupancy rate in their regular hospital beds.

Wisconsin, where the number of hospitalized Covid-19 patients has risen over the last month from about 300 to 876 today, recently established a new field hospital on its state park fairgrounds over fears that the state’s hospitals wouldn’t have enough beds given the recent surge in cases.

Fortunately, hospitals have gotten much better at treating Covid-19. They have proven treatments, like remdesivir and dexamethasone, that reduce the length of hospital stays and reduce mortality in patients with severe symptoms. They have learned techniques like putting patients on their stomach to improve breathing. Hospitals that have endured multiple spikes of Covid-19 cases report patients in the later waves are spending less time in the hospital and dying less frequently.

Nevertheless, more people developing severe symptoms, as we are starting to see, will inevitably lead to more deaths. Over the summer, people wondered why deaths were falling while cases and hospitalizations rose — until deaths did start to increase. There is a long lag between cases rising and deaths rising, because it can take a month or more between when a person first contracts Covid-19 and, if they die, when their death is reported.

That’s why these new Covid-19 trends in the US are so worrisome. Cases are rising, as are hospitalizations. It could be only a matter of time before deaths start to spike as well.

COVID-19 Goes Viral on College Campuses

COVID-19 Goes Viral on College Campuses

Freshman Sarah Anne Cook carries her belongings as she packs to leave the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, on August 18, because of a COVID-19 outbreak. All in-person undergraduate learning was canceled.

On August 10, students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) began the fall semester in person. Freshman Jasmine Baker was cautiously optimistic — as an incoming student in the Hussman School of Journalism, she was excited to experience college and get to know her suitemates. But she also worried that the university’s health and safety protocols would not prevent the spread of the coronavirus on campus.

She was right. Just one week after classes started, UNC announced that all undergraduate classes would move to remote learning for an indefinite period following a surge of COVID-19 cases. The case positivity rate on campus jumped from 2.8% to nearly 14%, Colleen Flaherty reported in Inside Higher Ed. After the second week, the positivity rate skyrocketed to 31%.

Baker, an out-of-state student, learned about the change in learning plans while attending an in-person class. “The email was very vague about housing,” she told Slate. “There were no specifics. Everyone kind of started freaking out. . . . We learned about it at the same time the professors did.” To top it off, she and a roommate soon tested positive for COVID-19. “We were all in such close quarters,” Baker said. “I know people that barely left their dorms, and they still ended up catching it.”

The situation at UNC is not unique.New York Times tracker has revealed at least 88,000 COVID-19 cases and 60 deaths at American colleges since the pandemic began. Photos and videos of students flouting public health guidelines at indoor parties or other gatherings have gone viral. Some university administrators have condemned the socializing as “reprehensible” and reprimanded students for “disrespectful, selfish, and dangerous” behavior.

Experts like Julia Marcus, PhD, MPH, an epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School, and Jessica Gold, MD, MS, a psychiatrist at Washington University, saw this coming from a mile away.Students will get infected, and universities will rebuke them for it; campuses will close, and students will be blamed for it,” they warned in the Atlantic over the summer. “Relying on the self-control of young adults, rather than deploying the public-health infrastructure needed to control a disease that spreads easily among people who live, eat, study, and socialize together, is not a safe reopening strategy.”

If you put 10,000 [students] in a small space, eating, sleeping, and socializing together, there’ll be an explosion of cases. . . . I don’t know what colleges were expecting.

—UNC epidemiologist Whitney Robinson

As the Editorial Board of the Daily Tar Heel, UNC’s student newspaper, wrote one week into the semester, “Reports of parties throughout the weekend come as no surprise. Though these students are not faultless, it was the University’s responsibility to disincentivize such gatherings by reconsidering its plans to operate in person earlier on.” The local health department recommended that UNC implement remote learning for the first five weeks of the fall term, but administrators ignored that advice.

Lack of Guidelines for Safe Return

Throughout the summer, even as COVID-19 hot spots emerged across the country, President Donald Trump aggressively pushed for schools to reopen in person. Without federal guidance on how to do this safely, university administrators were left to cobble together their own plans for preventing coronavirus from spreading into the community.

“I don’t think there are two universities that have the same protocol,” Irwin Redlener, director of the Pandemic Resource and Response Initiative at Columbia University, told Politico. “It’s national chaos.

Universities have a strong financial incentive to reopen in person. Many are hoping to recover revenue from housing fees and out-of-state tuition payments that were lost when the pandemic forced them to suspend in-person classes in March. But as many universities have learned in recent weeks, reopening in person comes at a cost to the health of students, faculty members, and the surrounding community.

The New York Times reviewed 203 counties in which college students comprise at least 10% of the population and found that about half experienced their worst weeks of the pandemic after August 1, around the time students returned to campus. An analysis by USA Today revealed that communities with a significant college student population represent 19 of the 25 largest current coronavirus outbreaks in the US.

What has happened on campus hasn’t stayed on campus,” Shawn Hubler and Anemona Hartocollis wrote in the New York Times.

California Fares Better Than Other States

While California is not represented on USA Today’s list of big outbreaks, it is dealing with surges on some campuses. According to the New York Times campus tracker, there are nearly 2,600 coronavirus cases at 57 schools in California. (Because there is no national tracking system for coronavirus cases on college campuses, the New York Times is believed to have the most comprehensive count available.)

I expect this will blow up outbreaks in places that never had outbreaks, or in places that had outbreaks under control.

—Boston University epidemiologist
Eleanor Murray

With 444 confirmed cases, San Diego State University tops the list among California schools, followed by the University of Southern California with 358 cases and UC San Diego with 237. By comparison, North Carolina has nearly 5,200 coronavirus cases at 42 schools, including 1,150 cases at UNC.

California’s relative success at mitigating the spread of COVID-19 on campus can be attributed in part to the conservative reopening plans of many schools. The California State University (CSU) system, California Community Colleges, and University of California (UC) schools moved nearly all fall classes online. UC Berkeley is fully remote for the fall semester. Stanford University planned to have half of its undergraduate students on campus during different quarters, but it switched to mostly remote learning as coronavirus cases continued to rise in the Bay Area over the summer.

Even a hybrid learning model, however, has failed to stave off new coronavirus cases on campuses. Chico State University and San Diego State University, both part of the CSU system, became the first and second California campuses to pause in-person classes after COVID-19 cases spiked, Ashley Smith reported for EdSource.

Resources are a factor in prevention efforts. Chico State’s health center doesn’t have coronavirus tests for students. San Diego State, which has more resources, has two coronavirus testing sites on campus. Across the CSU system, only 2 out of 23 campuses (CSU Maritime Academy and Humboldt State University) have tested all students living in dorms, according to CalMatters. The UC system, which has a budget roughly four times that of the CSU system, is testing all students living in dorms across all 10 campuses. (The UC system has restricted on-campus housing to students who have no alternative housing options.)

An Avoidable Situation

With the academic year off to a rocky start and students being sent home amid coronavirus outbreaks on campuses, experts across the country are nervously tracking the spread of the virus. “I expect this will blow up outbreaks in places that never had outbreaks, or in places that had outbreaks under control,” Eleanor Murray, ScD, MPH, an epidemiologist at Boston University, told Ed Yong in the Atlantic.

COVID-19 surges on college campuses were preventable. “If you put 10,000 [students] in a small space, eating, sleeping, and socializing together, there’ll be an explosion of cases,” Whitney Robinson, PhD, an epidemiologist at UNC, told Yong. “I don’t know what colleges were expecting.”

 

 

 

 

Battle over COVID-19 school openings goes to the courts

https://thehill.com/regulation/court-battles/514196-battle-over-covid-19-school-openings-goes-to-the-courts

Nearly 800 COVID-19 lawsuits have been filed, according to law firm's  tracker

Teachers unions are waging court fights across the country aimed at unwinding what they say are unsafe and politically motivated timetables for reopening schools that risk exposing personnel to the coronavirus pandemic.

State officials eager to ramp up brick-and-mortar operations are facing lawsuits from Florida to Texas to Iowa over reopening plans as well as access to the COVID-19 infection data needed to monitor the rate of spread within school communities. 

At the same time, lawsuits are flying from the opposition direction: Parents in several states, including New York, Massachusetts and Oregon, dissatisfied with web-based teaching alternatives, are suing to force state officials to reopen physical schools sooner as courts are increasingly called upon to referee the fight over education in the age of coronavirus.

“A legal storm is brewing as safety and social distancing requirements for a physical return to school begin to take shape around the country,” Maria Ferguson, executive director of the Center on Education Policy at George Washington University, wrote on the education website The 74.

As millions of students prepare for the first day of school — whether in-person, remote or a hybrid of the two — the fight over the reopening physical school buildings is likely to intensify.

The debate over in-person K-12 instruction planning is inseparably tied to the issues of child care needs and parents’ ability to return to the workforce to help revive the struggling economy, all of which is playing out against the backdrop of a fast-approaching November election in a country that has seen nearly 6 million cases and more than 181,000 deaths from COVID-19.

Perhaps the highest-profile legal battle is taking place in the courts of Florida, where Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed off last month on an emergency order over school reopenings.

Under the order, most Florida school districts would be required to hold in-person classes five days a week by the end of August or risk losing funding. President Trump, who counts DeSantis as a close ally, has also threatened to cut off federal funding for schools if they do not resume in-person learning this fall.

The Florida policy prompted a lawsuit from the Florida Education Association (FEA), a statewide teachers union, and several other plaintiffs in favor of a more cautious return to in-person teaching.

“Public schools are not designed for COVID safety, and indeed, the government has recognized that they are high-contact environments,” said Kendall Coffey, the lead plaintiff’s attorney in the Florida case, who likened prematurely opened schools to “disease factories” and called the Florida policy “financial bullying.”

There are any number of issues, in terms of hallway sizes, the flow of students in and out of classrooms, ventilation, even how many students go into the bathroom,” he told The Hill. “There are many elements that are virtually impossible to guarantee when you’re dealing with children in large amounts.”

On Aug. 24, a Florida judge ruled in favor of the union and temporarily halted the statewide order. In his decision, Judge Charles Dodson struck down the order’s unconstitutional provisions and blasted DeSantis for having “essentially ignored” the state’s constitutional requirement that schools be operated safely.

“The districts have no meaningful alternative,” wrote Dodson, of Leon County. “If an individual school district chooses safety, that is, delaying the start of schools until it individually determines it is safe to do so for its county, it risks losing state funding, even though every student is being taught.”

A Florida appeals court agreed to temporarily halt Judge Dodson’s order from taking effect while DeSantis appeals.

The state contends that the benefit of in-person instruction outweighs the health risks associated with reopening brick-and-mortar schools. Some Florida school officials have also declined to disclose incidents of positive COVID-19 cases to school communities, citing the need for patient privacy. 

Attorneys for Florida have also argued in hearings that courts should not substitute their judgment for that of policymakers who have balanced all the equities and decided a prompt in-person reopening is the best policy.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), one of the largest teachers unions in the country, said Florida has its priorities backward.

“What their arguments show is that they don’t care about human life,” Weingarten told The Hill.

According to Weingarten, internal AFT polling in June showed that about 3 in 4 teachers said they would be comfortable returning to the classroom if guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were implemented in schools.

But she predicts that attitudes among teachers have shifted dramatically in past months as the Trump administration has failed to adequately manage the virus to ensure schools can be reopened safely.

“We’re polling right now,” she said. “And my hunch is that just like the public polls, it’s totally flipped.”

The AFT is backing lawsuits in Florida, New Mexico and Texas. Before schools can reopen safely — for what Weingarten calls “the biggest move indoors that the nation has done since March” — the group says local positivity rates should be below 3 percent and schools should have visibility into daily transmission rates. 

The union is also pushing for protocols that involve testing, contact tracing and isolation and implement best practices from the CDC for things such as ventilation, cleaning, physical distancing, mask-wearing and other safeguards.

As teachers unions make their case in court, parents in at least five states have filed lawsuits of their own to accelerate school reopenings.

A nonprofit litigation group called the Center for American Liberty, co-founded by lawyer and GOP official Harmeet Dhillon, is backing one such suit in California. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s restrictions on in-person school openings in the Golden State will affect an estimated 80 percent of K-12 students.

“The effects of this ham-handed policy are as predictable as they are tragic,” the lawsuit filed in a federal court in California states. “Hundreds of thousands of students will essentially drop out of school, whether because they lack the technological resources to engage with ‘online learning’ or because their parents cannot assist them.”

The litigation raises concerns about everything from school closures exacerbating the achievement gap and disproportionately harming special needs students and those without convenient internet access to challenges over the constitutional validity of government health orders.

Weingarten, of AFT, said it’s important to remember that despite seemingly irreconcilable differences over the policy details, all parties want to see schools reopen as soon as it’s safe to do so.

“None of us believes that remote is a substitute,” she said. “It’s a supplement.”

 

 

Top U.S. Officials Told C.D.C. to Soften Coronavirus Testing Guidelines

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention abruptly changed its recommendations, saying people without Covid-19 symptoms should not get tested.

 Trump administration officials on Wednesday defended a new recommendation that people without Covid-19 symptoms abstain from testing, even as scientists warned that the policy could hobble an already weak federal response as schools reopen and a potential autumn wave looms.

The day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued the revised guidance, there were conflicting reports on who was responsible. Two federal health officials said the shift came as a directive to the Atlanta-based C.D.C. from higher-ups in Washington at the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services.

Adm. Brett P. Giroir, the administration’s coronavirus testing czar, called it a “C.D.C. action,” written with input from the agency’s director, Dr. Robert R. Redfield. But he acknowledged that the revision came after a vigorous debate among members of the White House coronavirus task force — including its newest member, Dr. Scott W. Atlas, a frequent Fox News guest and a special adviser to President Trump.

“We all signed off on it, the docs, before it ever got to a place where the political leadership would have, you know, even seen it, and this document was approved by the task force by consensus,” Dr. Giroir said. “There was no weight on the scales by the president or the vice president or Secretary Azar,” he added, referring to Alex M. Azar II, the secretary of health and human services.

Regardless of who is responsible, the shift is highly significant, running counter to scientific evidence that people without symptoms could be the most prolific spreaders of the coronavirus. And it comes at a very precarious moment. Hundreds of thousands of college and K-12 students are heading back to campus, and broad testing regimens are central to many of their schools’ plans. Businesses are reopening, and scientists inside and outside the administration are growing concerned about political interference in scientific decisions.

Democratic governors who were weighing how to keep the virus contained as their economies and schools come to life said limiting testing for asymptomatic citizens would make the task impossible.

“The only plausible rationale,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York told reporters in a conference call from Albany, N.Y., “is that they want fewer people taking tests, because as the president has said, if we don’t take tests, you won’t know the number of people who are Covid-positive.”

Over the weekend, the Food and Drug Administration, under pressure from Mr. Trump, gave emergency approval to expand the use of antibody-rich blood plasma to treat Covid-19 patients. The move came just days after scientists, including Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, and Dr. Francis S. Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, intervened to stop the practice because of lack of evidence that it worked.

The move echoed a decision by the Food and Drug Administration to grant an emergency use waiver for hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug repeatedly sold by Mr. Trump as a treatment for Covid-19. The agency revoked the waiver in June, when clinical trials suggested the drug’s risks outweighed any possible benefits.

The testing shift, experts say, was a far more puzzling reversal. Dr. Giroir said the move was “discussed extensively by” members of the White House coronavirus task force, and he named Dr. Redfield, Dr. Atlas, Dr. Fauci and Dr. Stephen M. Hahn, the commissioner of food and drugs. Notably, he did not name Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator. But he said Dr. Fauci was among those who had “signed off.”

In a brief interview, Dr. Fauci said he had seen an early iteration of the guidelines and did not object. But the final debate over the revisions took place at a task force meeting on Thursday, when Dr. Fauci was having surgery under general anesthesia to remove a polyp on his vocal cord. In retrospect, he said, he now had “some concerns” about advising people against getting tested, because the virus could be spread through asymptomatic contact.

“My concern is that it will be misinterpreted,” Dr. Fauci said.

The newest version of the C.D.C. guidelines, posted on Monday, amended the agency’s guidance to say that people who had been in close contact with an infected individual — typically defined as being within six feet of a person with the coronavirus and for at least 15 minutes — “do not necessarily need a test” if they do not have symptoms.

Exceptions might be made for “vulnerable” individuals, the agency noted, or if health care providers or state or local public health officials recommended testing.

Dr. Giroir said the new recommendation matched existing guidance for hospital workers and others in frontline jobs who have “close exposures” to people infected with the coronavirus. Such workers are advised to take proper precautions, like wearing masks, socially distancing, washing their hands frequently and monitoring themselves for symptoms.

He argued that testing those exposed to the virus was of little utility, because tests capture only a single point in time, and that the results could give people a false sense of security.

“A negative test on Day 2 doesn’t mean you’re negative. So what is the value of that?” Dr. Giroir asked, adding, “It doesn’t mean on Day 4 you can go out and visit Grandma or on Day 6 go out without a mask on in school.”

The guidelines come amid growing concern that the C.D.C., the agency charged with tracking and fighting outbreaks of infectious disease, is being sidelined by its parent agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the White House. Under ordinary circumstances, administering public health advice to the nation would fall squarely within the C.D.C.’s portfolio.

Experts have called the revisions alarming and dangerous, noting that the United States needs more testing, not less. And they have expressed deep concern that the C.D.C. is posting guidelines that its own officials did not author. A former C.D.C. director, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, railed against the move on Twitter on Wednesday:

Dr. Tom Frieden
@DrTomFrieden
Two unexplained, inexplicable, probably indefensible changes, likely imposed on CDC’s website. * Dammit, if you come from a place with lots of Covid, quarantine for 14 days * If you’re a contact, get tested. If +, we can trace your contacts and stop chains of spread. A sad day.

Later, in an interview, Dr. Frieden elaborated. He noted that the C.D.C. had recently dropped its recommendation that people quarantine for 14 days after traveling from an area with a high number of cases to one where the virus was less prevalent. And he reiterated that testing the contacts of those infected was an important means of curbing the spread of the virus.

“We don’t know the best protocol for testing of contacts: Should you test all contacts? That’s the kind of study that frankly needs to get done,” Dr. Frieden said. But absent the answer to that question, he added, “I certainly wouldn’t say, ‘Don’t test contacts.’”

Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and two governors — Mr. Cuomo and Gavin Newsom of California — were outraged by the changes. Mr. Newsom said California would not follow the new guidelines, and Mr. Cuomo blamed Mr. Trump.

Representative Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, a Democrat and the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, also chimed in on Twitter: “The Trump Admin has a lot of explaining to do. #COVID19 testing is essential to stopping the spread of the pandemic. I’m concerned that CDC is once again caving to political pressure. This simply cannot stand.”

Mr. Trump has suggested that the nation should do less testing, arguing that administering more tests was driving up case numbers and making the United States look bad. But experts say the true measure of the pandemic is not case numbers but test positivity rates — the percentage of tests coming back positive.

As Dr. Giroir denied that politics was involved, he encouraged the continued testing of asymptomatic people for surveillance purposes — to determine the prevalence of the virus in a given community — and said such “baseline surveillance testing” would still be appropriate in schools and on college campuses.

“We’re trying to do appropriate testing, not less testing,” he said.

Still, the revisions left many public health officials scratching their heads. They might have made sense when the United States was experiencing a shortage of tests, some experts said, but that no longer appears to be the case. Dr. Frieden, however, said it was possible the administration was trying to conserve testing in case of another surge.

“The problem is we have too many cases, so there is basically no way to keep up the testing if you have a huge outbreak,” he said.

Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said she was “not as up in arms about the content of the guidelines” as she was about the idea that the C.D.C.’s own experts did not write them — and that C.D.C. officials were referring all questions about them to the health department in Washington.

“These guidelines are clearly controversial, and many are calling on C.D.C. to explain its rationale for them, but C.D.C. is unable to comment,” she said in an email. “This is really dangerous precedent, and I fear it will erode public trust in C.D.C.”