Mixed messages in the C.D.C.’s new guidelines for reopening schools
In the anguished battle over reopening America’s schools, the nation is divided into distinct, sometimes overlapping groups. There are those who want schools to fully reopen in the fall in order to restore normalcy for children or to help reopen the economy or both, and others who are much more concerned that in-person instruction could seed broader outbreaks.
Into this morass comes a package of documents from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about reopening schools, a second attempt after President Trump assailed the agency’s original recommendations last month as “very tough and expensive.” This time there’s something for everyone.
The documents include an opening statement that offers a full-throated call to reopen schools this fall, sounding at times more like a political speech than a scientific document. The C.D.C. did not write it; the statement was created by a working group convened by officials at the Department of Health and Human Services.
It lists many reasons children benefit from being in school, and downplays potential health risks, repeatedly describing children as unlikely to catch or spread the virus, even though the transmission risk is not definitively known.
But the package also includes information that some epidemiologists said was helpful, including checklists for parents and mitigation measures for schools, like keeping desks at least six feet apart, teaching hand-washing and mask-wearing, and keeping small groups of children in one classroom all day.
Our colleague Abby Goodnough, who covers health care for The Times, told us that after all of the back and forth on back-to-school guidelines, “the C.D.C.’s job is done for now.”
“It’s now pretty fully in the hands of local school districts and principals and superintendents to figure this out,” she said, “and there’s really not a lot of time left to make these decisions.” Because the new materials are of two minds — arguing for children to return to school while recommending very cautious guidelines for doing so — it won’t go far in mending the splits dividing Americans about how and when to reopen schools.
“It’s confusing,” she told us. “I would say that instead of providing clarity or creating a truce, it just kind of digs people into their differing positions on this even more.”
The cost of getting it wrong. A number of virus clusters in the U.S. have been traced back to school-related events like graduation ceremonies or gatherings of teenagers.
The state of testing: dismal
If you want a coronavirus test in the U.S., be prepared to wait days, even weeks, for the results. As the nation’s outbreak continues to rage, the demand for testing has overwhelmed labs and supply chains, leading to long delays that could be helping the virus spread.
In New York City, 20,000 to 35,000 people have been tested most weekdays recently — far below the target of 50,000 — but even that has strained local labs. Rapid-testing capacity hasn’t ramped up at the state and city levels, and case spikes in the West and the South have deluged national labs.
The delays have limited officials’ ability to quickly identify new cases and perform contact tracing. Quick turnaround times are considered critical for limiting transmission from people who do not show symptoms and may not isolate themselves until they know they have the virus.
But demand for lab capacity is only likely to increase as flu season approaches and universities that bring students to campus rely on plans to test them frequently.
Also contributing to the bottlenecks: strained or dwindling supplies of the machines, containers, chemicals and tools, like plastic pipette tips, used to move liquid between vials.
The surge, by percentage. President Trump has blamed the ballooning U.S. case count on increased testing, but the rise in infections far outpaces the higher volume of tests, a Times analysis found. Over nearly the last two months, the average number of tests has grown by 80 percent — to about 780,000 per day — while daily case counts shot up 215 percent.
Millions of Americans are on the brink of losing the $600 a week the federal government has been providing on top of state unemployment benefits to help them weather the pandemic. The extra benefit expires at the end of the month, but because of a quirk in the calendar, workers in most states won’t qualify for the payments after this week.
Unemployment income will drop off sharply for everyone, but lower-income workers will feel the hit the most.
To help those receiving benefits understand what the change means, The Times charted the shift in replacement income — the share of income that unemployment benefits make up — in every state.
Hong Kong — which had long kept the virus at bay while keeping schools, restaurants and malls open — announced new restrictions in the face of its largest outbreak since the beginning of the pandemic.
An outbreak in Melbourne, Australia, has rattled officials after extensive testing and early lockdowns had limited outbreaks for months.
In Israel, where cases are spiking and nearly one in nine people are now unemployed, thousands of millennials have blocked the streets outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence repeatedly to demand that he quit.
Masks, already mandatory in much of Europe, are now required in shops and supermarkets in England, where people had resisted over fears of appearing perturbed or ridiculous.
What else we’re following
The Times charted the countries with the worst outbreaks, judging by new daily cases per million people. Oman, Bahrain, Panama, South Africa and the U.S. lead the pack.
President Trump signed executive orders targeting high drug prices, even as he is relying on drug companies to develop virus treatments and vaccines. The orders alone cannot change policy.
The federal government sent nursing homes across the country faulty protective gear, including expired respirator masks and surgical masks crafted from underwear fabric.
More than one-third of the U.S. women’s Olympic rowing team was infected with Covid-19. Now, they’re warning young, healthy people to take the virus more seriously.
When business at a laundry shop in Taiwan slowed during the pandemic, the owners, an octogenarian couple, used the extra time to model left-behind garments on Instagram.
What you’re doing
As I now spend so much time washing my hands, I am using the time to memorize poems. I tape a poem to my bathroom mirror, and each time I wash my hands, rather than singing “Happy Birthday,” I memorize a poem or stanza.
— Karen O’Kain, Vancouver, British Columbia
Let us know how you’re dealing with the outbreak. Send us a response here, and we may feature it in an upcoming newsletter.