REUTERS: With just weeks to go before US schools begin to open, federal health and education officials on Friday stressed the need for children to get back into the classroom despite fears about safety as coronavirus infections surge.
Administration officials said reopening schools was critical for children’s mental and emotional well-being, as well as for allowing parents to get back to work to boost the economy, a priority for President Donald Trump as he seeks re-election in November.
Dr Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a news briefing the CDC had released additional resource documents to provide “some more granular detail” for administrators and parents.
“They’re all put out with the intent to help facilitate, as was mentioned earlier, the full reopening of schools for face-to-face learning,” he said.
The nation’s health protection agency added to its guidelines after Trump criticized its first recommendations as too tough, impractical and expensive.
The Republican president has been increasingly critical of health experts and their guidance as the surge in cases interferes with efforts to reopen the economy.
More than 4 million coronavirus infections have been recorded in the United States since the first U.S. case was documented in January, creating new hot spots in the West and South after initially centering on the New York area.
While the risk of severe COVID-19 is seen as relatively low for children, there is fear they could infect more vulnerable teachers and other adult school administrators.
US public schools are controlled by states and counties, not the federal government, and their plans make up a patchwork across the country.
Schools are reopening on different dates, with different modes of teaching – virtual instruction, in-person in classrooms, or a hybrid of both – and different or unclear expectations of how long each stage will last.
The uncertainties are exacerbating worry among parents already anxious after months of restrictions on children’s activities to curb the spread of the coronavirus, including closed playgrounds and public facilities like swimming pools.
Jenny Brower, 38, the mother of 12-year-old twin girls headed into the seventh grade in Atlanta, said she and her friends who have children at public and private schools share the same concerns.
“‘Is online good enough?’ I’d say no, but is it safe to go back?” she told Reuters.
The Atlanta public school system is starting classes on Aug 17, with the first two months online and the rest of the year to be decided. Brower’s private school is offering either online or a hybrid.
According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll last week, only one in four Americans thinks it is safe for public schools to reopen. Four in 10 parents said they would likely keep their children home if classes resume.
In a briefing on Thursday, Trump acknowledged that states that are currently coronavirus hot spots may need to delay reopening schools by a few weeks.
Redfield said he did not have a figure for how many schools that might involve, however.
The United States took 98 days to reach 1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 but just 16 days to increase from 3 million to 4 million, a Reuters tally showed.
The acceleration has complicated efforts to ease lockdowns, leading some states to reverse business openings and pitting federal, state and city authorities against each other on schools and other measures such as mandating mask-wearing, largely along partisan lines.
A judge on Thursday ordered Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to enter mediation over Kemp’s lawsuit aimed at stopping the state’s largest city from enforcing its requirement that people wear masks in public.
Earlier this month, Kemp, a Republican, barred local leaders from requiring people to wear masks. Several Georgia cities, including Democratic-led Atlanta, Savannah and Athens, defied the governor’s order and kept local mandates in place in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.