American coronavirus: After muted New Years weekend, US braces for more disruption as students return to school

In Atlanta, at least five metro-area school districts will start with distance learning this week, as students prepare to return from vacation amid growing cases in the area. And in Washington, DC, public schools will be closed until Thursday as a winter storm thwarted plans for students and staff to take Covid-19 tests on Monday.

Other school officials are also changing their Covid-19 policies due to the explosion of the Omicron variant. Miami-Dade County Public Schools require all adults entering its buildings and buses to wear masks upon their return and have strongly encouraged students to wear masks as well.

Texas Children’s Pediatrics Chief Medical Officer Dr Stanley Spinner told CNN’s Pamela Brown, “When our larger school system returns, I think we’re going to see our numbers grow even more sadly because of it.”

While there may be “bumps in the road” as schools attempt to reopen in the New Year amid record spike in Covid-19 cases, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona has said the students had suffered enough and needed to return to class.

“Our expectation is that schools will be open full time for students for in-person learning,” Cardona said on Fox News Sunday, noting that science has improved almost two years after the start of the pandemic and that vaccines are available for school-aged children. “There is a level of urgency that we should not lose by making sure our children learn in person.”

Many students are now eligible for the booster injections. The United States Food and Drug Administration on Monday cleared Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine for booster injections in children 12 to 15 years old. About half of the population aged 12 to 15 is fully immunized.

Despite the pressure to keep schools open, some teachers pushed instead to switch to distance learning until this wave subsides. In Massachusetts, teachers called on state officials to close schools at the height of the wave, but were pushed back by Education Commissioner and Governor Charlie Baker.

“There are many tools and capacities available to keep children and adults safe in school, and we need to do everything in our power to make sure children stay in school,” Baker said. , while highlighting the state’s test and stay program.

The situation was similar in New York City, where new mayor Eric Adams felt schools should remain open and rejected a teachers’ union request to start the month with distance learning until the current wave of virus calms down.

Hospitalizations rise as health services stretch

Early studies suggested that the Omicron variant has a reduced risk of hospitalization compared to previous variants of Covid-19. Even so, the large number of cases has already had an impact on health services.

“We are once again seeing an increase in the number of patients, unprecedented in this pandemic,” said Dr. James Phillips, chief of disaster medicine at the George Washington University Hospital.

“What is coming for the rest of the country could be very serious. And they must be prepared.”

Healthcare workers have been exhausted by several outbreaks since the start of the pandemic, and now many are sidelined during the rapid rise of the Omicron variant – the most contagious strain to hit the United States.

“Our healthcare system is in a very different place than we were in previous outbreaks,” said professor of emergency medicine, Dr. Esther Choo.

“This strain is so infectious that I think we all know scores of colleagues who are currently infected or showing symptoms and are in quarantine,” Choo said. “We’ve lost at least 20% of our healthcare workforce, possibly more. “

The University of Maryland Capital Region Health this week joined a growing list of state medical centers to activate emergency protocols after a surge in cases fueled staff shortages and overwhelmed emergency services .

“The current demand for care is draining our available resources, including staff,” UM Capital Region Health said in a statement Friday.

Rising child hospitalizations weigh on US response to Covid-19
Dr Anthony Fauci told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union” on Sunday that with so many cases, “even though the hospitalization rate is lower with Omicron than with Delta, there are There is always the danger that you will have an increase in hospitalizations which could stress the health system. “

There are also concerns, according to Dr Scott Gottlieb, that while Omicron is a milder form of coronavirus for adults, it may pose a greater risk to children.

“It seems to be more of an upper respiratory disease than a lower respiratory disease. It’s good for most Americans. The only group that can be a problem is this one. very young children – toddlers – who have problems with upper respiratory tract infections, “Gottlieb told Margaret Brennan on” Face the Nation “on CBS.

“In fact, you are seeing more croup-like infections and bronchiolitis in New York City in children. So this could be a challenge for young children, and we are seeing an increase in hospitalizations in this pediatric segment,” said Gottlieb, former commissioner of the United States Food and Drug Administration and current member of the Pfizer board of directors.

Isolation guidelines relaxed, but testing remains vital

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated their guidelines for the Covid-19 isolation period, shortening it from 10 days to five days for people who do not have symptoms.

Fauci said on Sunday that the likelihood of asymptomatic people transmitting the virus on days 6 to 10 after infection is considerably lower. Still, he said he anticipated “further clarification” from the agency on the testing during this time.
Holiday flight cancellations skyrocket with Covid-19 disruptions and bad weather

“You’re right, people wonder why not test people at this point? ” he said. “I myself think it’s a reasonable thing to do. I think the CDC will be releasing more clarifications on this soon, as that obviously generated a number of questions over this five-day period, if you or shouldn’t you test people? There will be more clarification on this very soon. “

Fauci also clarified the importance of testing, noting that rapid home tests are not as accurate as the standard PCR test, but positive home tests may prompt people to seek additional medical attention.

“People shouldn’t feel like these tests aren’t helpful. They are very helpful. They are useful for screening. They are useful if you do them several times in sequence to tell you whether or not you are infected. I think there was kind of a concern when people said that, when it appeared the sensitivity was going down, but it’s still very valuable tests. “

CNN’s Christina Maxouris, Ben Tinker, Kevin Liptak, Elizabeth Stuart and Alaa Elassar contributed to this report.

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