More students are back at school as COVID-19 cases rise among children and at colleges
Tuesday was the first day of school for more than 1.8 million students, with most of the nation’s biggest districts offering online-only learning.
For those that opened their doors to students, the watch for coronavirus spread begins.
Several schools already have temporarily shut down again after COVID-19 outbreaks this school year. Others, including some universities, have managed to keep their cases low after testing every student returning to school.
New York will make public a report card on testing and results for every school in the state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday. Districts vary in offering digital or in-person learning, or a combination.
“Every school district has to report every day to the Department of Health as to how many tests were taken, what type of test, what was the result,” and all that information will be available online, Cuomo said.
In New Jersey, about 70 schools reopened “full-blown in person,” Gov. Phil Murphy told CNN’s John Berman, while others there were offering remote only or a hybrid.
Schools are reopening as the number of COVID-19 cases among children is rising. About 513,000 children have been infected with coronavirus as of Sept. 3, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association. In the last two weeks of the study, the number of child cases jumped by 16%, or 70,630 cases.
“These numbers are a chilling reminder of why we need to take this virus seriously,” said American Academy of Pediatrics President Dr. Sally Goza in the groups’ weekly report on pediatric coronavirus cases.
“While much remains unknown about COVID-19, we do know that the spread among children reflects what is happening in the broader communities,” she added.
While COVID-19 deaths are rare among children and young adults, many young people are suffering long-term effects from the disease. And even those without symptoms can easily spread coronavirus to others.
Some colleges and universities see report rising cases
Meanwhile, officials at some colleges and universities report rising cases of COVID-19 as students flout guidance on social distancing. The University of Tennessee is having a “significant issue” with some students, particularly fraternity members, Chancellor Donde Plowman said Tuesday in a live-streamed update.
UT has received reports that fraternities have been renting space off campus to host parties without social distancing, and telling members to not get tested — or how to get tested so the results aren’t shared with the university, she said.
“Actively working to avoid isolation and quarantine is reckless and it will further spread the virus, jeopardizing everyone else’s opportunity for a fall semester on campus,” Plowman said.
The university has 600 active COVID-19 cases, Plowman said, and all but eight are students. More than 2,000 are in quarantine or self-isolation, she said.
“Our case counts are going up way too fast and we will need more drastic measures to stop the upward trajectory,” Plowman said.
The school is considering enforcement options and “everything is on the table at this point,” the chancellor said.
Waiting for outcomes from Labor Day weekend
One big factor that could impact how rampantly COVID-19 spreads this fall is the outcomes from Labor Day weekend celebrations.
We won’t know the effects of Labor Day behavior for weeks. It takes up to 14 days for newly infected people to develop symptoms, and any new hospitalizations or deaths typically happen days or weeks after that.
To avoid mistakes made during the Memorial Day and July Fourth holidays, many Americans opted to stay home or socialize safely this Labor Day weekend. Others weren’t as cautious.
In Brooklyn, authorities shut down a bar over the weekend after deputies found nearly 300 people packed inside, CNN affiliate WABC reported. In Nashville, thousands flocked to the bars operating with restrictions, prompting the mayor to close down portions of a road to allow for more social distancing, CNN affiliate WKRN said.
In Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, crowds of visitors made social distancing nearly impossible, visitor Kristin Lefebver told CNN affiliate WBOC.
“In general I thought crowds were down this summer, until we hit Labor Day weekend,” Lefebver said. “As far as walking along the avenue, walking along the beach, being in the ocean, we’re quite on top of each other this weekend.”
Vaccine makers’ pledge could quash Trump’s claim
Despite President Donald Trump’s repeated claims that vaccines could be rolled out by Election Day, more health experts are saying that’s unrealistic.
“The reality is I do not see a way that we will have enough data for our Data and Safety Monitoring Board to say we have a vaccine, we can approve it, and it’s ready to roll out before Election Day,” said Dr. Carlos del Rio, a professor at Emory University School of Medicine and one of the investigators for the Moderna vaccine.
“This seems to be more of a political stunt than a public health gain. And we need to focus on the science … and let science drive the process.”
The only way a vaccine could be available by Election Day “is if there are so many infections in the clinical trial sites that you get an efficacy answer sooner than you would have projected,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Tuesday during an event sponsored by Research America.
“It’s unlikely that we’ll have a definitive answer at that time,” he added. “More likely by the end of the year.”
Moderna is one of nine vaccine makers that has issued a joint pledge Tuesday vowing to not cut corners in terms of safety just to get a vaccine out.
The pledge comes after US Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn told the Financial Times that the FDA could consider emergency use authorization or approval for a COVID-19 vaccine before critical Phase 3 trials are complete.
The nine companies promised they would “Only submit for approval or emergency use authorization after demonstrating safety and efficacy through a Phase 3 clinical study that is designed and conducted to meet requirements of expert regulatory authorities such as FDA.”
Many health experts have said a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine might not be publicly available until 2021.
What to do before a vaccine
Doctors worry that as the weather cools down, more Americans might start socializing indoors — where coronavirus can spread more easily.
One easy way to minimize the spread is with face masks. If 95% of Americans wore face masks consistently, about 70,000 lives could be saved between August and December, according to the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
The problem is not everyone is heeding that message, IHME Director Dr. Christopher Murray said.
“We’re seeing a roller coaster in the United States,” Murray said.
“It appears that people are wearing masks and socially distancing more frequently as infections increase, then after a while as infections drop, people let their guard down and stop taking these measures to protect themselves and others — which, of course, leads to more infections. And the potentially deadly cycle starts over again.”
The effectiveness of face masks is obvious in countries that have lower rates of COVID-19 deaths than the US does, said Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a professor of medicine at George Washington University.
Testing also is “key to interrupting” the virus’ spread, 11 National Institutes of Health directors said in a joint blog post on Tuesday, “particularly of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic individuals.”
“Testing can help people determine if they are infected with SARS-CoV-2 — regardless of whether they have symptoms — and whether they are at risk of spreading the infection to others. Taking measures to prevent the spread of infection will be the most effective strategy for getting us safely back to work and school,” the directors wrote.
“When you look at countries where the mortality is a fraction of what it is in the United States, the common theme from the very beginning of the pandemic was universal masking,” he said.