Health

Omicron teaches hard lessons as US schools revamp return from holidays

In
Washington, DC, all staff and 51,000 public school students must upload a
negative test result to the district’s website before coming to class on
Wednesday. Tests administered before Tuesday will not be accepted. Parents can
pick up rapid tests at their school or use their own.

Similar
efforts are underway in California, which pledged to provide free home-test
kits to all its 6 million K-12 public school students.

“There’s
a lot of COVID out there … it’s going to be a bumpy start,” said
Michelle Smith McDonald, director of communications and public affairs for the
Alameda County Office of Education.

New COVID
cases have hit record levels of 400,000 new infections a day on average due to
the extremely transmissible nature of the Omicron variant. Health experts
predict even more people will test positive following holiday gatherings,
leading to millions of people in quarantine and isolation in the coming weeks.

Schools from
Massachusetts to Michigan to Washington state were delaying classes a few days
and asking students and staff to use that time to get tested for COVID.

California
Governor Gavin Newsom has said shutting schools in the state should be only a
last resort. But school administrators are worried about having enough teachers
and other staff.

“There
will probably be individual school closures, whether due to an outbreak, or not
enough staff,” McDonald said.

In line with
updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the
state has shortened its quarantine period for those exposed to someone with
COVID or testing positive for COVID to five days from 10.

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Scientists
and health experts are concerned the policy fails to distinguish between
vaccinated and unvaccinated people, who recover from the virus at different
rates. It also does not require testing to confirm that a person is no longer
infectious before they end their quarantine.

California
has recommended people have a negative COVID test before leaving isolation.
Other states such as Illinois have not adopted the new CDC guidelines.

Asked about
the confusion around testing, top US infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci
said on Sunday that the CDC will soon clarify whether people with COVID-19
should test negative to leave isolation.

The extent
of the Omicron surge on the country’s school districts probably will not be
clear until next week. Already parents and administrators are struggling to
implement changing guidance and figure out how many shots staff and older
teenage students need to be considered fully vaccinated. This is the third
school year disrupted by COVID, which has not only set students back
academically but socially as well.

While early
data suggests Omicron is less severe than previous coronavirus variants, Fauci warned
hospitalizations could surge because of how quickly it spreads.

In just over
three weeks, the number of hospitalised COVID patients rose 50 percent
nationwide and COVID hospitalisations are at 70 percent of the previous peak in
January 2021, according to a Reuters tally. Delaware, Maryland, Ohio and
Washington, DC, have more COVID patients hospitalized than at any other point
in the pandemic. Delaware and Ohio have sent National Guard troops to hospitals
to try to help with the surge.

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New York
City schools, the largest district in the country, are reopening as planned on
Monday but with more testing for its nearly 1 million students. And instead of
quarantining an entire classroom if one person tests positive, all students in
the class will be given rapid at-home tests to use over the next seven days.

New York
City Major Eric Adams told parents to “fear not” as they sent their
children back to school.

“The
safest place for children is inside a school. The number of transmissions is
low,” he told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.

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