Rise in covid-19 cases could prevent states from reopening schools

South Carolina State Superintendent Molly Spearman just released final recommendations for districts to consider as they plan for the new school year even as the state is experiencing a sharp rise in covid-19 cases. More than 1,000 were reported on Monday, adding to a sharp spike in June.

In fact, nearly half of the states have seen a rise in cases this month as they were opening up in various stages, with a big surge in the South and West. And 10 states have recently seen the sharpest rises since the pandemic began months ago.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) called the record jump in cases and hospitalizations there “sobering.” And on Tuesday, Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases, characterized the surge in cases as “disturbing” and said he is “quite concerned” about community spread.

Asked about schools reopening, Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the House Energy and Commerce Committee that individual districts would have to make their own calls.

“You want to tailor it to the degree of viral dynamics in the particular location that you’re talking about,” he said.

Some districts and states, such as Florida and Texas, have said they plan to reopen buildings, even with rises in cases. Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath has told state legislators that schools will open safely, but exactly how is unclear.

No districts are yet exactly sure what they are going to do come August and September, and are planning for various scenarios. Until now, it looked as if many if not most would open the school year with a blend of virtual and in-school learning to maintain proper social distancing.

But if covid-19 rates stay high, districts may decide they cannot open at all, and will have to follow a remote model again, like they did last spring when the pandemic first hit and shut down nearly all schools in the country for months.

Spearman on Monday said as much when she unveiled the state’s final recommendations to districts, saying: “We’ve got to do our part and tame this increasing rage of the virus here in South Carolina. If it continues on the same path that it is on now it is going to be extremely difficult for us to be able to go back face-to-face.”

The recommendations themselves say:

“While the optimal learning environment for most students would be in-person instruction, we must acknowledge that what is reality now, may not be the same reality in August, nor the ideal educational model that works best throughout the year.”

Remote learning for many districts was difficult this past spring, and exactly how far they have come in the way of improvements is still unclear.

Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) asked a question that is on the mind of many Americans at the moment: “What’s it going to look like in August, and are kids going to go back to school?”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield and Fauci responded that the decision on whether to reopen schools will need to be made by local jurisdictions based on their own situation.

Contact tracing, Redfield said, is going to be “critical.” He added the CDC will be issuing guidance in coming days on reopening schools.

Fauci noted “you don’t want to make one-size-fits-all for the United States.”

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