The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday released long-awaited guidance on safely reopening schools, emphasizing the importance of having schools open as long as proper safety precautions are followed.
The guidance states it is “critical for schools to open as safely and as soon as possible,” given the benefits of in-person learning.
The top recommendations for doing so safely are universal wearing of masks by students, staff and teachers as well as distancing so that people are six feet apart.
Vaccination of teachers should be prioritized, the agency said, but “should not be considered a condition” of reopening schools.
Schools can adjust whether they are fully in-person or hybrid depending on the level of spread in the surrounding community and mitigation measures in place.
Schools are encouraged to use “podding” to separate students into smaller groups to help make contract tracing easier.
Doctors and scientists have been relieved that the dreaded “twindemic”—the usual winter spike of seasonal influenza superimposed on the COVID pandemic—did not materialize.
In fact, flu cases are at one of the lowest levels ever recorded, with just 155 flu-related hospitalizations this season (compared to over 490K in 2019). A new piece in the Atlantic looks at the long-term ramifications of a year without the flu.
Public health measures like masking and handwashing have surely lowered flu transmission, but scientists remain uncertain why flu cases have flatlined as COVID-19, which spreads via the same mechanisms, surged.
Children are a much greater vector for influenza, and reduced mingling in schools and childcare likely slowed spread. Perhaps the shutdown in travel slowed the viruses’ ability to hop a ride from continent to continent, and the cancellation of gatherings further dampened transmission.
Nor are scientists sure what to expect next year. Optimists hope that record-low levels of flu could take a strain out of circulation. But others warn that flu could return with a vengeance, as the virus continues to mutate while population immunity declines.
Researchers developing next year’s vaccines, meanwhile, face a lack of data on what strains and mutations to target—although many hope the mRNA technologies that proved effective for COVID will enable more agile flu vaccine development in the future.
Regardless, renewed vigilance in flu prevention and vaccination next fall will be essential, as a COVID-fatigued population will be inclined to breathe a sigh of relief as the current pandemic comes under control.
Over the weekend I realized that my son Henry, born in June 2019, has lived more than half of his life in the pandemic era. He’s too young to be cognizant of it, of course, but my wife and I are acutely conscious of the experiences his older brother had already enjoyed by the time he was Henry’s age, things that are impractical or impossible in the moment.
He’s not alone in that, of course. Most Americans are experiencing some ongoing deprivations because of the pandemic. (Most of those for whom the pandemic is not imposing unusual restrictions are, ironically, probably contributing to the pandemic’s extent and duration.) Just about everyone in the United States is eagerly scanning the horizon for signs of normalcy — as we have been for months, occasionally spotting oases that too often turn out to be mirages.
So when will we return to some semblance of normal? It’s hard to say with certainty. The best tool we have to reach that point, though, is the broad deployment of the vaccines approved for emergency use by the government. But even the existence of those vaccines can’t completely answer the question.
For example, the rate at which the vaccines are deployed makes a massive difference. A pace of 2 million shots per day as opposed to 1 million seems like a subtle distinction but, obviously, means achieving immunity for recipients twice as fast.
What level of immunity is necessary is a question of its own. Do we need 70 percent of the country to have been immunized? Or, as infectious-disease expert Anthony S. Fauci has recently said, is the figure closer to 80 or 85 percent?
When doing this calculation, do you include the 26 million Americans who have already had coronavirus infections? What about young people? The vaccine trials included only those age 16 and over. Those younger have constituted about a 10th of the total infections. And what vaccine are we talking about? The Pfizer and Moderna iterations require two shots; the vaccine from Johnson & Johnson requires only one.
All of these factors affect how we can figure out when the country might hit the herd-immunity mark. If we assume that young people will be included among those needed to be vaccinated — a complicated question on its own — the calculator below will allow you to figure out when immunity might be achieved at various immunization rates.
At this rate, the country would reach 70 percent herd immunity through vaccinations by Nov. 10
How we calculate this: There are about 330 million Americans, meaning that we need 231 million to be resistant to the virus to hit 70 percent immunity. We can take out the 5.8 million Americans who’ve already been vaccinated. That leaves 211.3 million people to be vaccinated.
From there the math is straightforward: doing two-shot vaccinations at a rate of 1.5 million shots per day means it will take 282 days to complete the job.
Bear in mind that sliding the little bar to determine how quickly shots are administered is far easier than actually scaling up the infrastructure to do so. President Biden’s original target for daily vaccinations was 1 million; he recently increased it to 1.5 million. At that rate, we’re still months from resolution. But because administering the vaccine is more complicated and requires more tracking than vaccinations such as that for the seasonal flu, it’s necessarily trickier to scale up.
At this point, the more urgent concern is the efficacy of the vaccine against any variants of the virus that might emerge. Manufacturers have already noted that the vaccine works less well against a virus variant first identified in South Africa, though the vaccines are still broadly effective, particularly at protecting the recipient from severe illness or death after infection.
Well, that and the fact that a fifth of Americans said in a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll that they won’t get the vaccine or would do so only if it was required. Happily, more Americans are now saying they’re eager to get a vaccine.
The faster we get people immunized, the better we protect against the emergence of new mutations that prove less able to be controlled by the vaccines. The faster we get shots in arms, as the phrasing has it, the faster we get back to normal.
Which would be nice for all of us, including my 1-year-old.
Some teachers don’t want to return to the classroom until they’ve been vaccinated — setting up potential clashes with state and local governments pushing to reopen schools.
Why it matters:Extended virtual learning is taking a toll on kids, and the Biden administration is pushing to get them back in the classroom quickly. But that will only be feasible if teachers are on board.
Where it stands:Although the rise of new, more contagious variants has scrambled the calculus on school reopening, for now the expert consensus is that vaccinations aren’t essential to safely reopening schools.
A pair of studies from the CDC this week reiterated the agency’s stance that schools can operate safely with the proper precautions, along with other mitigation measures in the broader community.
Most states haven’t put teachers at the front of the line for vaccines. Only 18 have included teachers in the early priority groups that can get vaccinated now, and in all but four of those states, teachers are competing for shots with other higher-risk populations, including the elderly.
Yes, but: Teachers in some large school districts don’t want to return to the classroom without being vaccinated — which could mean several more months of virtual classes.
The Chicago teachers union has asked to delay reopening until teachers receive at least the first dose of the vaccine, but the city’s public health commissioner has said it could take months for teachers to be vaccinated, the Chicago Tribune reports.
“If you are required to work with students in person — which thousands of educators have been doing for months now — you should be vaccinated as soon as possible,” Jessica Tang, president of the Boston Teachers Union, said in statement after teachers were bumped behind the elderly in the state’s priority line, per Boston.com.
What they’re saying:“The issue is that we should be aligning vaccination with school opening. That doesn’t mean every single teacher has to be vaccinated before you open one school, it means there has to be that alignment,” Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, told ABC News.
Teachers should be eligible for vaccination by “late January,” she wrote in a USA Today op-ed over the weekend.
The other side: Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has said school staff will be prioritized for vaccination, with the goal of having students return to classrooms by March 1.
But prioritizing teachers can be controversial. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has been criticized for the decision to vaccinate teachers ahead of the elderly, high-risk essential workers and other vulnerable communities.
In a rural county in Georgia and at a private school in Philadelphia, teacher vaccine clinics were shut down by their state health departments, which said that educators were not yet eligible.
The bottom line:“It’s challenging to make those decisions about how to prioritize different populations, all of whom are at significant risk,” the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Jennifer Tolbert said.
26 million now say they don’t have enough to eat, as the pandemic worsens and holidays near.
It was 5 a.m., not a hint of sun in the Houston sky, as Randy Young and his mom pulled into the line for a free Thanksgiving meal. They were three hours early. Hundreds of cars and trucks already idled in front of them outside NRG Stadium. This was where Young worked before the pandemic. He was a stadium cook. Now, after losing his job and struggling to get by, he and his 80-year-old mother hoped to get enough food for a holiday meal.
“It’s a lot of people out here,” said Young, 58. “I was just telling my mom, ‘You look at people pulling up in Mercedes and stuff, come on.’ If a person driving a Mercedes is in need of food, you know it’s bad.”
More Americans are going hungry now than at any point during the deadly coronavirus pandemic, according to a Post analysis of new federal data — a problem created by an economic downturn that has tightened its grip on millions of Americans and compounded by government relief programs that expired or will terminate at the end of the year. Experts say it is likely that there’s more hunger in the United States today than at any point since 1998, when the Census Bureau began collecting comparable data about households’ ability to get enough food.
One in 8 Americans reported they sometimes or often didn’t have enough food to eat in the past week, hitting nearly 26 million American adults, an increase several times greater than the most comparable pre-pandemic figure, according to Census Bureau survey data collected in late October and early November. That number climbed to more than 1 in 6 adults in households with children.
“It’s been driven by the virus and the unpredictable government response,” said Jeremy K. Everett, executive director of the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty in Waco, Tex.
Nowhere has there been a hunger surge worse than in Houston, with a metro-area population of 7 million people.Houston was pulverized in summer when the coronavirus overwhelmed hospitals, and the local economy was been particularly hard hit by weak oil prices, making matters worse.
More than 1 in 5 adults in Houston reported going hungry recently, including 3 in 10 adults in households with children. The growth in hunger rates has hit Hispanic and Black households harder than White ones, a devastating consequence of a weak economy that has left so many people trying to secure food even during dangerous conditions.
On Saturday, these statistics manifested themselves in the thousands of cars waiting in multiple lines outside NRG Stadium. The people in these cars represented much of the country. Old. Young. Black. White. Asian. Hispanic. Families. Neighbors. People all alone.
Inside a maroon Hyundai Santa Fe was Neicie Chatman, 68, who had been waiting since 6:20 a.m., listening to recordings of a minister’s sermon piped into large earphones.
“I’ve been feeding my spirit,” she said.
Her hours at her job as an administrator have been unsteady since the pandemic began. Her sister was laid off. They both live with their mother, who has been sick for the past year. She planned to take the food home to feed her family and share with her older neighbors.
“It’s been hard to survive. Money is low. No jobs. Hard to find work.”
— Randy Young
“I lost my business and I lost my dream.”
— Adriana Contreras
Now, a new wave of coronavirus infections threatens more economic pain.
Yet the hunger crisis seems to have escaped widespread notice in a nation where millions of households have weathered the pandemic relatively untouched. The stock market fell sharply in March before roaring back and has recovered all of its losses. This gave the White House and some lawmakers optimism about the economy’s condition. Congress left for its Thanksgiving break without making any progress on a new pandemic aid deal even as food banks across the country report a crush of demand heading into the holidays.
“The hardship is incredibly widespread. Large parts of America are saying, ‘I couldn’t afford food for my family,’ ” said Stacy Dean, who focuses on food-assistance policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “It’s disappointing this hasn’t broken through.”
No place has been spared.In one of the nation’s richest counties, not far from Trump National Golf Club in Virginia, Loudoun Hunger Relief provided food to a record 887 households in a single week recently. That’s three times the Leesburg, Va.-based group’s pre-pandemic normal.
“We are continuing to see people who have never used our services before,” said Jennifer Montgomery, the group’s executive director.
Hunger rates spiked nationwide after shutdowns in late March closed large chunks of the U.S. economy. The situation improved somewhat as businesses reopened and the benefits from a $2.2 trillion federal pandemic aid package flowed into people’s pockets, with beefed-up unemployment benefits, support for food programs and incentives for companies to keep workers on the payroll.
But those effects were short-lived. The bulk of the federal aid had faded by September. And more than 12 million workers stand to lose unemployment benefits before year’s end if Congress doesn’t extend key programs.
“Everything is a disaster,” said Northwestern University economist Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, a leading expert on the economics of food insecurity. “I’m usually a pleasant person, but this is just crazy.”
Economic conditions are the main driver behind rising rates of hunger, but other factors play a role, Schanzenbach said. In the Great Recession that began in 2008, people received almost two years of unemployment aid — which helped reduce hunger rates. Some long-term unemployed workers qualified for even more help.
But the less-generous benefits from the pandemic unemployment assistance programs passed by Congress in March have already disappeared or soon will for millions of Americans.
Even programs that Congress agreed to extend have stumbled. A program giving families additional cash assistance to replace school meals missed by students learning at home was renewed for a year on Oct. 1. But the payments were delayed because many states still needed to get the U.S. Agriculture Department’s approval for their plans. The benefit works out to only about $6 per student for each missed school day. But experts say the program has been a lifeline for struggling families.
One program that has continued to provide expanded emergency benefits is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. The Agriculture Department issued an emergency order allowing states to provide more families the maximum benefit and to suspend the time limit on benefits for younger unemployed adults without children.
The sharpest rise in hunger was reported by groups who have long experienced the highest levels of it, particularly Black Americans. Twenty-two percent of Black U.S. households reported going hungry in the past week, nearly twice the rate faced by all American adults and more than two-and-a-half times the rate for White Americans.
The Houston area was posting some of its lowest hunger rates before the pandemic, thanks to a booming economy and a strong energy sector, Everett said. Then, the pandemic hit. Hunger surged, concentrated among the city’s sizable low-income population, in a state that still allows for the federally mandated minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Houston’s hunger rates — like those nationwide — fell significantly after the $1,200 stimulus checks were mailed out in April and other pandemic aid plans took effect, Everett said.
But most of the effects of that aid are gone.
“Without sustained aid at the federal level, we’ll be hard pressed to keep up,” said Celia Call, chief executive of Feeding Texas, which advocates for 21 food banks in the state. “We’re just bracing for the worst.”
Schools are one of the most important sources of food for low-income families in Houston. The Houston Independent School District has 210,000 students — many of whom qualify for free or reduced-priced meals. But the pandemic closed schools in the spring. They reopened in the fall with less than half of the students choosing a hybrid model of in-school and at-home instruction. That has made feeding these children a difficult task.
“We’ve made an all-out effort to capture these kids and feed them,” said Betti Wiggins, the school district’s nutrition services officer.
The district provided curbside meal pickups outside schools. Anyone could come, not just schoolchildren. School staffers set up neighborhood distribution sites in the areas with the highest need. They started a program to serve meals to children living in apartment buildings. Sometimes the meal program required police escorts.
“I’m doing everything but serving in the gas station when they’re pumping the gas,” Wiggins said.
Wiggins said the normal school meals program she ran before the pandemic has been transformed into providing food for entire families far beyond a school’s walls. She has noticed unfamiliar faces in her meal lines. The “new poor,” she calls them, parents who might have worked in the airline or energy industries crushed by the pandemic.
“I’m seeing folks who don’t know how to handle the poverty thing,” she said, adding that it became her mission to make sure they had food.
The Houston Food Bank is the nation’s largest, serving 18 counties in Southeast Texas with help from 1,500 partner agencies. Last month, the food bank distributed 20.6 million pounds of food — down from the 27.8 million pounds handed out in May, but still 45 percent more than what it distributed in October 2019, with no end in sight.
The biggest worry for food banks right now is finding enough food, said Brian Greene, president of the Houston Food Bank. Food banks buy bulk food with donations. They take in donated food items, too. Food banks also benefited from an Agriculture Department program that purchased excess food from U.S. farmers hurt by the ongoing trade war with China, typically apples, milk and pork products. But funding for that program ended in September. Other federal pandemic programs are still buying hundreds of millions of dollars in food and donating it to food banks. But Greene said he worries about facing “a commodity cliff” even as demand grows.
Teresa Croft, who volunteers at a food distribution site at a church in the Houston suburb of Manvel, said the need is still overwhelming. She handles the paperwork for people visiting the food bank for the first time. They’re often embarrassed, she said. They never expected to be there. Sometimes, Croft tries to make them feel better by telling her own story — how she started at the food bank as a client, but got back on her feet financially more than a decade ago and is now a food bank volunteer.
“They feel so bad they’re having to ask for help. I tell them they shouldn’t feel bad. We’re all in this together,” Croft said. “If you need it, you need it.”
The pandemic changed how the Houston Food Bank runs. Everything is drive-through and walk-up. Items are preselected and bagged. The food bank has held several food distribution events in the parking lots outside NRG Stadium — a $325 million, retractable-roof temple to sports and home to the National Football League’s Houston Texans.
Last weekend, instead of holding the 71st annual Thanksgiving Day Parade in Houston, the city and H-E-B supermarkets decided to sponsor the food bank’s distribution event at NRG Stadium. The plan was to feed 5,000 families.
The first cars arrived at the stadium around 1 a.m. Saturday, long before the gates opened for the 8 a.m. event. By the time Young and his mother drove up, the line of vehicles stretched into the distance. Organizers opened the gates early. The cars and trucks began to slowly snake through the stadium’s parking lot toward a series of white tents, where the food was loaded into trunks by volunteers. The boxes contained enough food for multiple meals during the holiday week, with canned vegetables such as corn and sweet potatoes, a package of rolls, cranberry sauce and a box of masks. People picking up food were also given a bag of cereal and some resealable bags, a ham, a gallon of milk, and finally a turkey and pumpkin pie.
The food for 5,000 families ran out. The Houston Food Bank — knowing that would not be enough — was able to assemble more.
It provided food to 7,160 vehicles and 261 people who walked up to the event.
Troy Coakley, 56, came to the event looking for food to feed his family for the week. He still had his job breaking apart molds at a plant that makes parts for oil field and water companies. But his hours were cut when the economy took a hit in March. Coakley went from working overtime to three days a week.
He was struggling. Behind on rent. Unsure what was to come.
But for the moment, his trunk filled with food, he had one less thing to worry about.
“Other than [the pandemic], we were doing just fine,” Coakley said. “But now it’s getting worse and worse.”
State-level reports are the best publicly available data on child COVID-19 cases in the United States. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association are collaborating to collect and share all publicly available data from states on child COVID-19 cases (definition of “child” case is based on varying age ranges reported across states; see report Appendix for details and links to all data sources).
As of November 12th, over 1 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic. The age distribution of reported COVID-19 cases was provided on the health department websites of 49 states, New York City, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam. Children represented 11.5% of all cases in states reporting cases by age.
A smaller subset of states reported on hospitalizations and mortality by age; the available data indicated that COVID-19-associated hospitalization and death is uncommon in children.
The number of new child COVID-19 cases reported this week, nearly 112,000, is by far the highest weekly increase since the pandemic began. At this time, it appears that severe illness due to COVID-19 is rare among children. However, there is an urgent need to collect more data on longer-term impacts on children, including ways the virus may harm the long-term physical health of infected children, as well as its emotional and mental health effects.
Summary of Findings (data available as of 11/12/20) :
(Note: Data represent cumulative counts since states began reporting)
Cumulative Number of Child COVID-19 Cases*
1,039,464 total child COVID-19 cases reported, and children represented 11.5% (1,039,464/9,037,991) of all cases
Overall rate: 1,381 cases per 100,000 children in the population
Change in Child COVID-19 Cases*
111,946 new child COVID-19 cases were reported the past week from 11/5-11/12 (927,518 to 1,039,464)
Over two weeks, 10/29-11/12, there was a 22% increase in child COVID-19 cases (185,829 new cases (853,635 to 1,039,464))
Testing (10 states reported)*
Children made up between 5.0%-17.4% of total state tests, and between 3.9%-18.8% of children tested were tested positive
Hospitalizations (23 states and NYC reported)*
Children were 1.2%-3.3% of total reported hospitalizations, and between 0.5%-6.1% of all child COVID-19 cases resulted in hospitalization
Mortality (42 states and NYC reported)*
Children were 0.00%-0.21% of all COVID-19 deaths, and 16 states reported zero child deaths
In states reporting, 0.00%-0.15% of all child COVID-19 cases resulted in death
* Note: Data represent cumulative counts since states began reporting; All data reported by state/local health departments are preliminary and subject to change
As evidence, Trump Jr. cited a misleading graph on his Instagram page – apparently compiled from incomplete and already outdated federal data – which was used as evidence to suggest that the “death rate” has been falling dramatically in the last two weeks. In fact, daily deaths are slightly rising after a long plateau, and the situation is expected to worsen in November as the virus takes its toll on the newly infected. “I realize I am naive,” Ashish K. Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, tweeted in response to the interview. “But I’m still shocked by the casualness by which our political and media leaders and their families dismiss the daily deaths of nearly a thousand Americans.”
Hundreds of thousands of Americans will have coronavirus infections on Election Day, and options are dwindling for those who intend to vote. “Some will be required to get doctor’s notes or enlist family members to help,” our Investigations desk reported. “Others, in isolation, will need to have a witness present while they vote. Planned accommodations — such as officials hand-delivering ballots — may prove inadequate or could be strained beyond limits.”
The nationwide surge in coronavirus cases is forcing many school districts to pull back from in-person instruction, Axios’ Marisa Fernandez reports.
Why it matters:Remote learning is a burden on parents, teachers and students. But the wave of new infections, and its strain on some hospitals’ capacity, makes all forms of reopening harder to justify.
Where it stands:Over 60% of U.S. public school students will be attending schools with in-person options, up 20% from Labor Day, Education Dive reports. But some of those districts are pulling back.
Spikes in COVID-19 cases are forcing two Salt Lake County high schools to close their doors and switch to online-only instruction — in a district where half the high schools were already closed, the Salt Lake Tribune reports.
Both Boston and Chicago’s public school districts shut down in-person learning as health officials investigate outbreaks in nearby suburbs.
Nineteen Minnesota counties are on the verge of closing their K-12 schools for the foreseeable future because of rising coronavirus cases, the Pioneer Press reports.
“Last night I shared a post on Facebook that said, ‘Hey, the flu shot isn’t about you.’ Sitting here, soaking up every ounce of caffeine before my night shift, I figured I should elaborate.
The flu shot is for Influenza, a severe respiratory illness that can lead to death. Have you ever had it? I have, and it’s awful. You spike fevers, every bone and muscle in your body aches, and no matter how hard you try, you just can’t seem to catch your breath.
You get the flu shot not always for you, but for those around you. For the grandparents, whose bodies are not what they used to be, and they just can’t kick an illness in the butt like when they were young.
For the 30 year old, with HIV or AIDS, who has a weakened immune system.
For the 25-year-old mother of 3 who has cancer. She has absolutely zero immune system because of chemotherapy.
For the newborn baby who was just welcomed into the world, and isn’t quite strong enough to fight off infections on his own.
For the nurses and doctors that take care of you. If they get sick, they can’t go to work and take care of the countless patients that need them.
For the 50-year-old husband who needs a medication for his chronic illness, and that medication also weakens his immune system.
For the pregnant mom that has been trying to get pregnant for years, and now she’s trying to stay healthy for her unborn baby.
For the single dad who can’t take any more sick days and needs to provide for his kids.
For the 7-year-old boy that just wants to play with his friends. But he has a disease that puts him at a higher risk for infection, so he has to stay inside.
The flu shot is NOT always about you. It’s about protecting those around you, who cannot always protect themselves. I have been in the room as a patient has passed away, because of influenza. I have watched patients struggle to breathe, because of influenza. I have busted my butt to provide tylenol, warm blankets, nebulizers, etc. to keep that patient comfortable and fighting a terrible respiratory infection.