Systems want nationwide Covid-19 testing to get students back to class after winter break
Unlike in 2020, there is much broader support for continuing in-person schooling, following a grim record of distance learning on student mental health and learning impairments.
“The science is clear. Schools need to stay open,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a press briefing last week. “Everyone talks about the needs of our children. Their health needs, physical Health, mental health, nutritional needs, their social development. These are academic needs, schools need to be opened.”
Apart from vaccines, a strategy called test-to-stay is fueling teachers’ hopes that the remainder of this school year will be easier than the last. Instead of quarantining, students exposed to COVID-19 are regularly tested and can stay in school if they are negative. The policy is growing in popularity and has been described as effective by researchers.
Washington, DC, and Baltimore have extended the winter break by two days to test staff and students before reopening buildings on January 5. Chicago is recommending that parents get their children rapid tests done before returning to school. About 2,200 schools have announced they will close Monday, according to Barbio, a Pelham, NY, data company that is monitoring K-12 school closures in 5,000 districts across the country.
Other systems, such as Seattle Public Schools, are moving forward and pledging to remain resilient. Last week the district announced it had received 60,000 tests. So she canceled classes on Monday to test the teachers. Classes will resume from Tuesday.
“We believe that students learn best with teachers in the classroom and plan to keep students and staff in schools,” the district said on its website. “SPS, however, is deployed to convert classes (or schools) to distance learning, if necessary, at some point in January.”
President Biden has pledged to make 500 million COVID-19 tests available to the public free of charge through a website to be launched in January. The timing of the delivery of those tests is in question. Last week Mr Biden told a meeting of governors that the federal government had not moved fast enough.
Some states’ plans have been thwarted by supply-chain disruptions.
Last week, Massachusetts education officials promised 200,000 at-home rapid antigen COVID-19 tests to teachers and staff in school districts across the state so they can test themselves before returning to school after the break. While supply-chain problems delayed the delivery of tests, schools were still about to open.
A similar delay occurred in Connecticut when a Democrat, Gov. Ned Lamont, announced that the state would distribute three million tests to the public. Then they failed to reach the test on time.
“I think we got ahead of ourselves,” Mr Lamont told reporters last week. Some tests arrived on Friday, Mr Lamont tweeted.
The latest COVID-19 surge, fueled by the Omicron variant, has so far been concentrated in the Northeast. Pediatric hospital admissions are accelerating for most Covid-19 related to schools. In New York City, there was a fourfold increase in those cases in December. In Washington, DC, they doubled. Nationwide they are up 66% over the past week, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Those regional surges help explain why hundreds of districts have announced they will be conducting classes remotely by the middle of the month. In Mount Vernon, NY, Kenneth R. Hamilton, the superintendent of schools, decided to pause classroom instruction through January 18 after seeing the cancellation of Broadway performances and professional sports leagues postponing some games.
“I have been very reluctant to close schools, but given the current trends in COVID cases, it would be risky not to do so,” Dr Hamilton wrote on the school’s website before the break. “Schools will reopen on Tuesday, January 18, 2022.”
In a sign that the pandemic is heading into a new endemic chapter, the Neshamini School District, outside of Philadelphia, will begin classes immediately after winter break but will shut down contact tracing “because legality, along with any reasonable expectation of credibility It is logically impossible to do so. Or loyalty,” wrote the superintendent of schools, Rob McGee, on the district website. “I am fairly certain that the following is something that will haunt everyone on the COVID continuum, regardless of which side you lean on,” Dr. McGee said.
The CDC said last week the CDC reduced the recommended number of people to isolate after being infected with COVID-19 from 10 to five days. The CDC said asymptomatic people can leave isolation after five days and should wear a mask around other people.
The change is in line with the test-to-stay model approved by the CDC in December and has been rolled out in states including Massachusetts and California. But only 13 of the nation’s largest 100 districts had a test-to-stay policy before schools halted for a break, according to the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a Seattle-based research organization that deals with the spread of COVID-19. Tracks school responses to
The move to move forward with in-person schooling in the US is largely what others have done globally.
Europe started experiencing a surge in the Omicron version several weeks ago. After facing criticism from experts and parents for closing during the early stages of the pandemic, authorities in Germany and Austria pledged to keep schools open despite a surge in infections.
The British government says keeping classes open is a priority and plans to resume normal school operations in January. Massive testing, air purifiers and pre-teachers are being deployed to ensure that education is not compromised by the rapid spread of Omicron in the country.
—Bojan Pansavsky and Max Colchester contributed to this article.
Write Douglas Belkin at [email protected]