Coronavirus safety plans already put to the test as some communities start the school year
Posted August 1, 2020 1:47 p.m. EDT
A new school year began this week in some communities across the United States, bringing with it the first glimpse at how the Covid-19 pandemic will shape education.
"Don't expect a normal school year," New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said Friday when talking about the possibility of changing the state's school plans in light of rising cases. "Normalcy is not in our grasp right now. Let's all accept that."
School districts have been debating how to accommodate educational needs and safety in a nation with more than 4.5 million coronavirus cases and 153,314 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. As the new school year began for some schools this week, 60 of the 101 largest US school districts had plans to start the year entirely online, while others were offering in-person classes part or full time.
Top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci has warned that children going back to school will be "part of the experiment" of understanding the virus.
An Indiana school district was put to the test on the first day Thursday when the Hancock County Health Department told a junior high school that a student who had attended part of the day tested positive, Superintendent Dr. Harold Olin said in his letter to parents.
The school enacted its "Positive COVID-19 Test Protocol," isolated the student and had the premises professionally disinfected, Olin said.
"It was very evident today that nearly all of our families and students were prepared to properly follow the safety protocols we have established," Olin wrote to parents. "Adhering to these protocols is essential for maintaining a safe environment for all students and staff."
A similar scenario played out in Mississippi, where someone tested positive during the Corinth School District's first week of classes, the school district said on social media Friday.
Superintendent Lee Childress confirmed to CNN affiliate WREG that a student had tested positive. Officials notified families of students who came in close contact with the individual and asked them to quarantine at home for 14 days, the district said.
"We fully understand that parents might be concerned or on edge, but I'd like to assure them that we have all safety measures in place in the school district," Childress told WREG.
Infections in younger people
While early data suggested that older Americans were most at risk for the disease, concern for teens and young adults has grown as they have gathered in reopened public spaces and some prepare to return to school.
The California Department of Public Health confirmed the first coronavirus-related death of a teenager in the state on Friday. The department did not provide information on the patient except to say that the teenager did have underlying health conditions.
"Our hearts go out to the family and loved ones of this young person whose death is a tragic and powerful reminder of how serious Covid-19 can be," said Dr. Sonia Angell, State Public Health Officer and Director of the CDPH.
In Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said Thursday that he and the state's public health commissioner are concerned about clusters among teens and young adults. The coronavirus infection numbers among 10 to 19-year-olds had "doubled" recently, Lamont said, though he did not provide specific numbers.
"This is not a time to relax our basic practices to slow down the spread of the virus. This is a time for remaining vigilant," Lamont said in a release.
Hurricane threatens to complicate Covid-19 response
Meanwhile, Florida is facing the prospect of another crisis on top of its struggle with the coronavirus: Hurricane Isaias.
The Category 1 hurricane is forecast to move over northwestern Bahamas later Saturday before moving near Florida's east coast Saturday night through Sunday, the NHC said.
But hurricane response in Florida could look different in a pandemic -- the state reported 9,591 new Covid-19 cases on Saturday.
"The storm just exacerbates the conditions," Mayor Dean Trantalis of Fort Lauderdale told CNN. "What it does is it forces people to remain in closed quarters. And this is where we need to get that message out: that people need to make sure that those protocols are not sacrificed, that they understand how important it is to wear face masks."
The Florida Division of Emergency Management is sending personal protective equipment (PPE) to shelters throughout the state, Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a news conference Saturday.
The state will send 25 shelter kits with PPE to counties in the path of the storm, the governor explained, with each kit able to provide PPE for 400 people for up to 4 days.
Florida Power and Light warned that Floridians may have to wait longer than usual to get power restored if it's knocked out by Isaias. "It may reduce productivity and result in longer restoration times," spokesman Bryan Garner said, though he did not have an estimate of how much longer power restoration could take.
The power utility has been practicing its pandemic restoration plan for a few months, Garner said. FPL personnel are social distancing, wearing masks and sanitizing equipment, among other precautionary measures.
Hospitals are also bracing for the storm. Two of the largest hospital systems in Miami-Dade County -- Jackson Health System and Baptist Health South Florida -- said they have extensive hurricane response plans. Spokespersons for both health systems said they had enough backup generators to keep up operation for 4 days.
DeSantis said Saturday that the state has been in touch with hospitals in areas that could be affected, but said they don't anticipate hospitals needing to evacuate patients at this time.
Local leaders tackle the impacts of a resurgence
Other state and local leaders are enacting measures to slow down the virus as cases continue to spike.
New York Gov. Cuomo said Saturday that 41 establishments were given violations for breaking Covid-19 social distancing restrictions, including 2 in the Bronx, 1 in Brooklyn, 5 in Queens, 1 in Staten Island, 3 in Nassau, 2 in Suffolk and 27 in Manhattan.
The city of Anchorage, Alaska, rolled back parts of its economic reopening for at least the next four weeks, limiting outdoor gatherings to 50 people; prohibiting bars, nightclubs and restaurants from indoor service; and extending the city's indoor mask mandate to outdoor events where social distancing isn't possible, Mayor Ethan Berkowitz said at a Friday news conference.
"We know there is a Covid storm coming," Berkowitz said. "This is our time to batten down."
A surge has already hit in Alabama, overwhelming the state's testing abilities, the Alabama Department of Public Health said Friday, asking doctors to focus testing on the most vulnerable populations.
Alabama is among the at least 39 states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico to have some type of mask requirement in place.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who sued Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms over her mask requirement for the city, has extended existing Covid-19 safety measures through September 10, he announced in a news release on Friday.
While there is still no mask mandate, the order continues to ban gatherings of more than 50 people unless there is six feet between each person and outlines mandatory criteria for businesses.
Racing to develop tests
Health experts are expediting coronavirus tests to help officials and the public combat the virus.
The US Food and Drug Administration issued emergency use authorizations Friday for two tests that can tell not only whether someone has antibodies to coronavirus but can give some idea of how much antibody is present.
Evaluating antibodies is important as researchers investigate if people who have been infected develop immunity, a question Dr. Tim Stenzel, the director of the Office of In Vitro Diagnostics and Radiological Health in the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said has yet to be answered.
"Patients should not interpret results as telling them they are immune, or have any level of immunity, from the virus," he said.