Disney World's July 11 reopening: 6 things to watch
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With coronavirus patients filling up Inland Empire hospitals, nurses are desperate for relief
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New Movies + Shows to Watch this Weekend: ‘Palm Springs’ on Hulu + More
...Plus meet The Old Guard, get stuck in Vivarium and celebrate winter in July with Last Christmas.
This day in sports: U.S. defeats China in Women's World Cup
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Editorial: L.A. Unified just made a misstep on school police
The L.A. Unified board let emotion trump reasoning when it suddenly slashed the budget for campus police without waiting for results of a study.
Column: Facebook has failed to control hate speech. Will advertiser demands change anything?
It's long past time for Facebook to take complaints about hate speech and misinformation as more than occasions for navel-gazing.
The political pendulum has swung away from Trump. But there’s time for it to swing back.
Society has moved so far left that there's time for it to swing back before the November elections.
This famous Old Hollywood hotel is for sale — while its former owner is on the lam
Longtime celebrity haunt L'Hermitage Beverly Hills hotel is going to auction next month for at least $100 million.
Soccer on TV: Barcelona and Real Madrid will meet for top spot in La Liga
Top televised soccer matches this weekend feature Barcelona-Real Madrid battling for top spot in La Liga, while rivals Tottenham and Arsenal meet.
Victor David Hanson: Our current protest movement and the fragility of the woke
A TikTok video that recently went viral on social media showed a recent Harvard graduate threatening to stab anyone who said “all lives matter.” In her melodrama, she tried to sound intimidating with her histrionics.
Covid-19 testing in the US is abysmal. Again.
A digital sign directs people to drive-through coronavirus test sites on March 28, 2020, in Stony Brook, New York. | John Paraskevas/Newsday via Getty Images The US never fixed the core causes of its testing problem. So it’s now seeing the same kinds of issues pop up again. Covid-19 testing in the US improved dramatically over the first half of 2020, but things now appear to be breaking down once more as coronavirus cases rise and outstrip capacity — to the point that the mayor of a major American city can’t get testing quickly enough to potentially avoid spreading the virus. “We FINALLY received our test results taken 8 days before,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms tweeted July 8. “One person in my house was positive then. By the time we tested again, 1 week later, 3 of us had COVID. If we had known sooner, we would have immediately quarantined. Perhaps the National Guard can help with testing too.” Anecdotally, I’ve heard of similar delays across the country — people waiting days or even weeks for their Covid-19 test results after standing in lines for hours to get tested. Labs have warned about problems: Quest Diagnostics, one of the biggest lab companies in the US, said wait times for test results are now averaging between four and six days for most people. “Basically, two things are happening,” Ashish Jha, faculty director of the Harvard Global Health Institute (HGHI), told me. “One is the outbreaks are getting much bigger, so the amount of testing we need to get our arms around the outbreak is going up. And second, what we did [before] was some tweaking on capacity issues to get ourselves up to 500,000 to 600,000 tests a day, but didn’t fundamentally address the supply chain problems.” He added, “This was supposed to be the job of the White House. … But they just never have prioritized really building up a robust testing infrastructure for the country.” The problems have become more localized than in previous months. New York and Connecticut’s testing capacity seems to be holding up pretty well, largely because their Covid-19 outbreaks seem to be under control for now. States where epidemics are raging, such as Arizona, Florida, and Texas, are where testing problems seem to be spiraling. As Bottoms’s story conveys, this is a big problem for getting the coronavirus outbreak under control: Testing is crucial for controlling disease outbreaks because they let officials and individuals see when further action, such as isolation and contact tracing, is necessary. But if testing is slow or insufficient, it can’t show people they’re infected and need to take action until it’s likely too late. That’s especially true with Covid-19 because people can have the virus and spread it without showing any symptoms. “This is the same story we heard in the earlier days of the outbreak,” Jennifer Kates, vice president and director of the Global Health and HIV Policy Program at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told me. “But it’s much worse because everyone felt like the US was a little caught off guard at the beginning. … What we’re learning now is that none of the things that should’ve happened in the interim [during lockdowns] happened.” So as America faces a surge of new coronavirus cases, the testing delays threaten to make the epidemic even worse. America improved its testing capacity — to a point America made huge improvements in Covid-19 testing capacity over the past few months, largely due to local, state, and private action as President Donald Trump’s administration delegated the issue downward and said the federal government would act merely as a “supplier of last resort.” Nonetheless, the improvements were substantive and real. The US went from testing hundreds of people a day (at most) in late February and early March to consistently hitting 500,000 to 700,000 tests a day in June and now July. The benchmark of 500,000 tests per day was particularly important, as it was the minimum experts had long called for in order to get the pandemic in the US under control. But as the US neared that benchmark, attention to testing seemed to plummet. The Trump administration, which had already delegated testing down to lower levels of government and private actors, especially appeared to lose interest: The country’s “testing czar,” Brett Giroir, stood down and went back to his regular job at the Department of Health and Human Services. Trump falsely claimed in May that “America leads the world in testing”; at his Tulsa rally in June, he said he told his people to “slow the testing down” because the rising case count made him look bad. (He later asserted that his statement at the rally was not a joke, despite White House officials insisting it was.) As all this happened, many of the underlying problems with testing capacity remained. For one, there’s still a lot of variation between states. While most states, as of July 8, had 150 new tests per 100,000 people per day — the equivalent to 500,000 daily tests nationwide — 18 states still didn’t. The state-by-state situation looks worse through another metric: the test positive rate, or the percent of tests that come back positive. If a place tests widely enough, allowing it to catch even the people who show few symptoms but could still spread the virus, it should have a low positive rate — typically below 5 percent, though some experts now argue for less than 3 percent. A high positive rate indicates only people with obvious symptoms are getting tested, so there’s not quite enough testing to measure the scope of an outbreak. As of July 8, most states in the US had a positive rate above 5 percent, suggesting their testing capacity isn’t keeping up with the scale of their outbreaks. The consequence is delays in testing results as the demand for tests outmatches the supply. So people can’t get their test results quickly enough to act on a positive report, preventing tests from achieving the exact goal they’re supposed to accomplish. Testing was always supposed to scale with larger outbreaks The diversion between many states hitting 150 daily tests per 100,000 people and still having positive rates that are too high exposes another problem: The call for 500,000 tests a day nationwide was supposed to be only the minimum. Experts always warned that if the Covid-19 outbreak got much worse, there would likely need to be even more testing to keep up with the rise in new potential patients and cases. “There’s the testing capacity you need to get to the place of opening up, then there’s the testing capacity you need to be open,” the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Kates said. “Once economies start to open again, people start moving and returning to the public sphere, and there are outbreaks. If there’s not enough testing, and testing hasn’t been built along with contact tracing, you’re going to have this explosion that we’re seeing, and the testing is not going to catch up with it.” Jha, from the HGHI — which was one of the more vocal advocates for the threshold of 500,000 tests — said he worries something got lost in his communications to journalists and government officials. At the same time, Jha and the other experts I spoke to were always clear, at least to me, that the 500,000 benchmark was a minimum. In fact, even before the current testing problems, Jha and the HGHI said the number was likely too low to keep up with the US epidemic and called instead for a minimum of 1 million daily tests. “We were the ones who generated the 500,000-a-day number. We did it based on a particular size of the outbreak,” Jha said. “Clearly, things have gotten much worse since then.” He added, “We’re learning. We’re trying to figure out how to control the virus and where the country should go. And obviously in that we’re going to be updating data as it goes along.” With the positive rate, it’s a similar story. Thomas Tsai, a health policy expert at Harvard, said the real goal for the positive rate is 0 percent — when the coronavirus is vanquished. So it’s important for states not to get complacent just because they’re now below an “acceptable” maximum of 3 percent or 5 percent. “The tests are a mean to an end,” Tsai said. The metrics “are just signposts along the way to give you directions.” But as Covid-19 cases dropped and plateaued for the greater part of May and early June, much of the public and officials may have become complacent with the testing situation. They set their attention to other issues, such as the rise of new Black Lives Matter protests. Trump and the rest of the White House stopped focusing on the topic, halting daily press briefings about Covid-19, perhaps as officials realized that the president’s botched response to the crisis had made him look much worse. Meanwhile, there was a push, from Trump in particular, for states to reopen as quickly as possible to boost the economy. Now it’s clear that problems with Covid-19 testing remain. Earlier on, the hurdles with testing were linked to supply chain problems: not enough swabs to collect samples, vials to store them, or reagents and kits to run the tests. Over time, those problems were fixed or worked around. The issue, experts say, is that these kinds of problems were always bound to come back as testing demand increased. Fixing a bottleneck for kits may let the country get to 500,000 tests a day, but that bottleneck can easily come back if, for instance, the nation needs 1 million per day and there are only enough kits for 700,000. Jha pointed to basic economic concerns as a key problem. “If we decided to tomorrow, do we have the technological capacity to be able to get many millions of tests a day? Absolutely,” he said. But labs aren’t sure that making the massive investment for way more tests is financially sustainable, he explained, especially as Covid-19 outbreaks ebb and flow — and, as a result, occasionally deplete demand for those tests, as well as the number of people who need them. Ideally, the federal government would be in charge of handling these problems. It’s the one entity that can go to labs across the country, see what the holdups are, then work along the global supply chain to see what can be done to address the issues. It has the funding ability to ensure labs and suppliers remain whole. And it can prioritize limited resources to specific cities, counties, or states that need them most, instead of leaving these supplies to a free-for-all. This is, in fact, what the federal government does with other issues — such as when it ensures that a manufacturer has all of the parts needed for an order of guns, tanks, or jets. “The military has visibility into the entire supply chain, and the military oversees the entire supply chain,” Jha said. “It may be working with private companies, but the [Department of Defense] doesn’t leave this all up to chance.” The Trump administration, however, has described the federal government as a “supplier of last resort.” That’s very different from the kind of proactive approach the Feds take on other issues to get ahead of supply constraints. So the problem is left to private actors as well as local and state governments, which often face legal, financial, and practical constraints that hinder their ability to move quickly. And the problem persists, even as Covid-19 cases continue to rise. Testing always mattered and still matters It’s been said a countless number of times in recent months, but it’s still true: Testing is key to stopping the Covid-19 pandemic. When paired with contact tracing, testing lets officials track the scale of an outbreak, isolate the sick, quarantine those with whom the sick came in contact, and deploy community-wide efforts as necessary. Aggressive testing and tracing are how other countries, such as South Korea and Germany, got their outbreaks under control, letting them partly reopen their economies. This testing problem is solvable in the US. “New York at its peak had people dying in the hallways of hospitals. Test positive rates were routinely above 20 percent,” Tsai said. “Look at it now, with a test positive rate of about 1 percent. In Massachusetts, our positive rate is about 2 percent now. These states show that concerted efforts … can not just mitigate the pandemic, not just flatten the curve, but also contain and suppress the pandemic.” This only works, however, if officials can move quickly on a test, preferably within 24 to 36 hours. In the time it takes to confirm whether someone either has Covid-19 or came into contact with someone who has it, the person is more likely to continue their typical routine, potentially infecting others in the public or even within their own homes. In this context, every day and hour matters to get people to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Testing and tracing can’t solve the pandemic all on their own. They have to be paired with precautions such as wearing masks and keeping 6 feet apart in public. In extreme cases, lockdowns can still be warranted if an outbreak is so out of control that a stay-at-home order becomes the only way to reel things back. Lockdowns, however, were also supposed to buy the nation time to build up its testing system. As Natalie Dean, a biostatistics professor at the University of Florida, previously told me, “The whole point of this social distancing is to buy us time to build up capacity to do the types of public health interventions we know work. If we’re not using this time to scale up testing to the level that we need it to be … we don’t have an exit strategy. And then when we lift things, we’re no better equipped than we were before.” It’s now clear that the US didn’t take full advantage of the time it bought with lockdowns. While testing did dramatically improve compared to the early days of the pandemic, it’s still not at a point where America can handle the higher demand brought on by another surge in coronavirus cases. “It’s pathetic. This is not how a first-world country functions,” Jha said. “That people should not expect to access a test to an infectious disease many, many months into a pandemic — I find myself amazed that this is where we are as a country.” Support Vox’s explanatory journalism Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.
Coronavirus deaths are now rising along with cases and hospitalizations. When will the wave crest?
Coronavirus deaths are now rising along with cases and hospitalizations. When will the wave crest?
Hong Kong confirms 38 new coronavirus cases
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After a frenetic few weeks, the Supreme Court gaveled out Thursday, bringing to a close an unprecedented term that defied expectations and shifted perceptions of the court in the heat of an election year.
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Juice WRLD's posthumous album 'Legends Never Die' drops, leaving fans emotional
Late rapper Juice WRLD's hotly anticipated posthumous album "Legends Never Die" dropped Friday, prompting reports from fans that interest in the release caused his Spotify page to temporarily crash.
Juice WRLD's posthumous album 'Legends Never Die' drops, leaving fans emotional
Late rapper Juice WRLD's hotly anticipated posthumous album "Legends Never Die" dropped Friday, prompting reports from fans that interest in the release caused his Spotify page to temporarily crash.
Eye Opener: U.S. coronavirus cases surge as Trump pushes for reopening
The U.S. set another daily record for coronavirus cases as President Trump continues to push for reopening schools. Also, Tropical Storm Fay will continue to move north this weekend, bringing heavy rain and flood alerts to some areas. All that and all that matters in today's Eye Opener. Your world in 90 seconds. (Photos courtesy: Christopher Sadowski)
Let me take a selfie: Iowa's first selfie museum goes viral in Des Moines
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The debate over reopening America’s K-12 schools, explained
Freedom Preparatory Academy, an elementary school in Provo, Utah, was closed on March 16. Many cities are now grappling with whether or not to open their schools in the fall. | George Frey/Getty Images Solving the school problem is crucial for parents and kids. Here’s what experts say would help. This spring, Kwesi Ablordeppey worked nights taking care of veterans at Holyoke Soldiers’ Home in Massachusetts, where at least 76 patients have died of Covid-19. During the day, though, he has been the resident IT consultant at his home in Springfield — his two teenage daughters often needing his help troubleshooting problems with their Zoom lessons. Like most students around the country, the 10th-graders shifted to online learning earlier this year when their school closed to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. This left Ablordeppey, a single dad, with the dual burden of working and managing his kids’ education — something many American parents have struggled with in the pandemic. “It’s not something that I’m comfortable with,” he said, but “we have to adapt to the situation.” Adapting to any situation is easier when there’s an end in sight. But pulling sleepless nights, trying to work with kids on your lap, and sometimes even moving across the country to be with family members who can provide child care are not permanent solutions. And as Covid-19 cases skyrocket across the American South and West, and many families enter their fifth month without reliable child care in sight, the question is growing louder and louder: What’s going to happen in the fall? It’s a question with high stakes for all involved — children, parents, teachers, and staff— a total of tens of millions of people across the country. While some have called on the federal government for help, President Trump instead waded into the fray this week with his trademark all-caps bluster to insist that schools must open in the fall without any clear solutions. He also threatened to withdraw federal funding from schools that don’t open their buildings. But Trump’s blanket statements belie the complexity of the problem. On the one hand, it is clear that the transition to online school has led to serious setbacks in learning in the spring, especially for students who are already at a disadvantage in the school system. For example, researchers found that after the shift online, student math progress declined by about half at schools in low-income zip codes, but not at all in schools in high-income areas, according to the New York Times. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images President Trump hosted an event on July 7 with students, teachers, and administrators about how to safely reopen schools. And while some parents, many of them higher-earning professionals, have been able to supervise their children’s online learning while working from home, many lower-paid service workers don’t have the option to work remotely. They could soon be forced to choose between caring for their kids and getting a paycheck — if they haven’t been already. “Closing public schools on a prolonged basis poses real difficulties for low-wage workers,” Michelle Holder, an economics professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told Vox. But at the same time, reopening schools runs the risk of exposing not just students but also teachers and staff to a highly dangerous virus. Parents, including Ablordeppey, are wary. His daughters’ district has not yet announced final plans for the fall, but his children’s safety from Covid-19 will come first in any decision he makes, especially given his experience caring for patients. “I’ve seen it with my naked eye,” he said. “When I’m looking at anything, I’m looking at that perspective.” Many teachers are also worried about going back into the classroom without a clear plan to keep everyone safe. “Every teacher I know desperately wants to go back to work,” Sarah Mulhern Gross, a high school English teacher in New Jersey, told Vox. “We want to be with our students, just not with possible long-term effects or, God forbid, fatalities hanging over our heads.” Despite a lack of federal direction, there are solutions:Experts have proposed a number of ways to help kids learn and parents work while mitigating the risks — from outdoor classrooms to a corps of workers who can care for children in small groups while they complete online lessons. But that will take the political will of federal and state leaders to actually confront the problem. “The government has the capacity to do this stuff,” Lisa Levenstein, director of the women’s, gender, and sexuality studies program at UNC Greensboro, told Vox. “We’re just choosing not to.” Online-only learning is causing real problems for kids As the coronavirus spread around the country in March and April, schools closed in all 50 states, and most stayed closed through the end of the academic year. The closures were meant to help slow transmission of the virus, which had already sickened parents, teachers, staff, and students nationwide, though it is unclear how many infections occurred in schools. With school buildings closed, most districts switched to delivering instruction online, a process that posed its own challenges. Experts worried, for example, about how the 17 percent of children who lack a computer at home would complete remote schoolwork, and about how homeless students — who number more than 114,000 in New York City alone — would find a place to study. And many feared that the shift to online learning would exacerbate existing racial and economic inequalities in education. Those concerns, it turns out, were warranted. One analysis of online-learning data from this spring found that the shift could put the average student seven months behind academically, while the average Latinx student lost nine months and the average Black student lost 10, according to the New York Times. “If we don’t figure out how to do this right, in the long term, what we’re going to be grappling with is even greater inequities” Students who are homeless or housing-insecure experienced especially great difficulties with remote learning, Raysa Rodriguez, associate executive director for policy and advocacy at the Citizens’ Committee for Children, a co-convener of the Family Homelessness Coalition, told Vox. New York and other cities did provide iPads and other devices to students who didn’t have computers at home, but even then, space was an issue. “You’re dealing with two or three students literally, without exaggeration, in a small room, four walls,” Rodriguez said. “Remote learning looks very challenging, to say the least.” For all these reasons, some experts are calling for a return to in-person instruction in the fall if at all possible. The American Academy of Pediatrics, for example, stated in June that it “strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.” The group noted the risks not just to students’ learning but to their overall health if in-person school cannot resume. “Lengthy time away from school and associated interruption of supportive services often results in social isolation, making it difficult for schools to identify and address important learning deficits as well as child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation,” the AAP statement read. “This, in turn, places children and adolescents at considerable risk of morbidity and, in some cases, mortality.” Indeed, teachers and other school staff are often the ones to spot the signs that a child is being abused at home, experts say. And when kids don’t go to school, those signs could be missed entirely. In North Texas, for example, reports of child abuse and neglect were down 43 percent after the pandemic began.It’s not an indicator there’s less abuse, “it’s an indicator of child abuse not being recognized by adults out there,” Lynn Davis, president of the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center, told NBC. School psychologists are worried, too, that students’ mental health could suffer with the shift to remote schooling, especially given the added stress of the pandemic. In one April survey by the Education Week Research Center, less than a quarter of school leaders said they were able to meet their students’ mental health needs to the same degree as they had before the coronavirus crisis. While many parents remain concerned about the public health risks of returning to school amid a pandemic, without some solution to the already-evident problems of remote learning, a fall semester online could set students back further. And those who are already marginalized within the education system and society as a whole, including students of color and low-income students, are likely to suffer the most. “If we don’t figure out how to do this right, in the long term, what we’re going to be grappling with is even greater inequities,” Rodriguez said, “even a wider gap between those who are doing well and those who are struggling every day.” Parents are buckling under the demands of online school Meanwhile, the shift to remote learning has placed enormous strain on parents, who have been expected to take over as part-time educators, assisting their children from home. Online learning often requires more support from adults than in-person learning, not less, as Jennifer Darling-Aduana, a soon-to-be assistant professor at Georgia State University who studies equity in digital learning, told Vox in the spring. Young children may need constant attention from parents to keep them on task during online lessons and to help them complete assignments that could once have been done in class. And while older students may be able to complete more work on their own, they still may need help navigating new learning technology — as well as paying attention and actually getting work done when there’s no classroom to go to. For students with special needs, meanwhile, parents often must figure out how to replace the additional support, such as one-on-one aides, that schools ordinarily supply. And a lot of that support has come from mothers, 80 percent of whom said they were shouldering the majority of homeschooling responsibilities in an April poll by Morning Consult for the New York Times. Parents are already cutting their hours or dropping out of the labor force entirely due to child care problems — according to one survey conducted between May 10 and June 22, 13 percent of US parents had done so. And there’s evidence that mothers have been cutting back more, with 28 percent of mothers in the Morning Consult survey saying that they were working less than usual, compared with 19 percent of fathers. Meanwhile, one California mom, Drisana Rios, is suing her employer after she says she was fired because her kids made noise during work calls; experts say more cases like these are likely to follow. These issues of work and income bring to light a function of the public school system that was often unacknowledged before the pandemic: For many families, school offers more than education — it’s “a place where parents can trust that their children will be safe,” Holder said. That’s crucial for working parents, especially those who can’t afford private child care like nannies or babysitters. Those with the ability to work from home, especially in two-parent households, have sometimes been able to cobble together schedules that allow them to care for kids while working — often putting in hours of work late at night or early in the morning. But parents who work outside the home have been left with few options, especially if they’re raising kids on their own. Leila Navidi/Star Tribune via Getty Images Andrea Royce (left) is homeschooling her three children together with Carlota Bernal (center) and her child during school closures due to Covid-19. Such parents are disproportionately likely to be women of color. Over half of Black children live in single-parent homes, compared with about 20 percent of white children, Holder said. Meanwhile, single mothers are among the poorest demographic in the US, with more than a third living in poverty, she added. And Black and Latina women are overrepresented in many essential and front-line jobs that require in-person work. All of this means that the impact of school closures falls particularly hard on Black and Latina moms, who are less likely to have the work flexibility, disposable income, or help from a partner that can make pandemic child care possible, if not easy. “The problem really looks very bad for women of color who are mothers,” Holder said. As months drag on with no child care solutions in sight for many families, “people are going to be faced with really impossible choices,” Levenstein said, like “do I leave my kids without supervision because I need to go to work and be able to buy them food?” or “do I decide I can’t go back to work?” Ablordeppey, the Massachusetts nursing assistant, hears stories of such choices from fellow essential workers in his union, SEIU Local 888, where he is chapter president. “Some people are still at home, because they’re torn between their kids and their job,” he said. “They ask you as an essential worker to report to work, no matter what, but they have to also know that you are a parent,” Ablordeppey said. In-person education during a pandemic comes with real risks And yet no matter how much students, family, and the economy may struggle under an online-only education model, there are clear public health risks to reopening schools. Coronavirus cases are rising across the country and surging disturbingly in several states, including Arizona, Texas, and Florida. And schools, at least as they’re traditionally structured, bring together hundreds of people every day, often for prolonged indoor contact with lots of talking — exactly the kind of activity that experts say is likely to spread the virus. There is some evidence that K-12 schools may not be as dangerous for coronavirus spread as some other settings, such as restaurants and bars, because of the age of the students. While children can become severely ill from the coronavirus, they are more likely than adults to have mild cases, and some data suggests they may be less likely to become infected or transmit the virus. For example, child care centers that have remained open to care for children of essential workers have reported relatively few cases of the virus, as Dr. Sean O’Leary, a pediatric infectious disease specialist who helped write the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines, noted in an interview with the New York Times. However, O’Leary and others acknowledge that if schools reopen, there will likely be Covid-19 cases there. And teachers and staff, who as adults are more likely to become seriously ill than students, have voiced concerns. Gross, who teaches 9th- and 12th-grade English in New Jersey, created a shared document listing educators’ questions after the state announced that schools would have to offer at least some form of in-person learning in the fall. So far, more than 600 people have submitted questions, she told Vox, ranging from whether a teacher would lose sick days for self-quarantining after a Covid-19 exposure to who would pay any ongoing medical bills if a teacher did contract the disease at school. In general, teachers “all know we work in an occupation where we’re constantly exposed to illness,” Gross said, “but for the most part that’s predictable and we know what the flu is like.” Covid-19 is something new, and the uncertainty of going back into a classroom during a pandemic gives a lot of teachers pause. “I think a lot of teachers are leaning toward distance learning as the safest option for now,” Gross said. Union leaders have also voiced concerns about district reopening plans, with Merrie Najimy, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, calling Gov. Charlie Baker’s recent proposal for the state’s schools insufficient because it doesn’t place a limit on class size or require 6 feet of distance between desks. “We did not rush in opening the state economy,” Najimy said in an interview with WCVB TV Channel 5 on Sunday. “We cannot rush into opening schools just because the calendar says we have to return to school by August or September.” Meanwhile, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, blasted Trump’s threats to schools that don’t reopen in a Thursday interview with Today. “If too many of our members believe Donald Trump’s hyperbole instead of somebody like Andrew Cuomo’s caution about their health and safety, we’re going to have a whole lot of people retire early, quit, take a leave,” she said. It’s not just teachers who face exposure if students come back to school buildings. As economist Emily Oster points out at Slate, it’s also staff like janitorial and cafeteria workers — groups of workers who have already faced disproportionate risks in health care settings, as they sometimes lack access to PPE. Some have argued that working in education should be considered essential work during the pandemic, alongside jobs in health care and grocery stores. “I am an essential worker,” said Holder, who teaches college students, “and along with that come certain responsibilities and expectations.” But essential workers in other sectors of the economy haven’t always been given the protections they’ve asked for, and many — including grocery store workers, nurses, and transit workers — have fallen ill and died. And due to looming state and local budget cuts, as well as crumbling school infrastructure, teachers are worried they won’t be protected either. “So many teachers purchase a lot of their own supplies” as it is, Gross said. “To think about going into a building with kids and staff providing a lot of their own PPE is scary.” (Some districts have already said they will provide masks for students and staff, though the price tag will be high.) Meanwhile, many school buildings are old, with aging HVAC systems that may not meet the ventilation standards experts increasingly believe are necessary to mitigate the risk of Covid-19. “I think if teachers are essential,” Gross said, “we would agree if our schools receive the funding that actually mirrors that.” There are solutions that would help — if policymakers listen In an effort to balance parents’ desire for in-person instruction — and pressure from elected officials, including Trump — with the risks of crowded classrooms, many districts are proposing hybrid models of instruction. Under these models, class sizes would be smaller, allowing for some physical distancing. But students would only be physically present in school some of the time; the rest of the time, they would be learning remotely. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, for example, announced a hybrid model on Wednesday under which students would be physically in school two or three days a week. The Miami-Dade County Public School District announced on Monday that parents could choose between online-only and in-person instruction for the fall, but warned that schools might only be able to offer in-person classes part time, depending on enrollment. While these models would allow students to get some of the benefits of classroom instruction, some of the inequities of online learning, including digital access issues, would likely remain unless specifically addressed. It’s also not clear whether many districts will offer options for child care for parents who need to work during the hours when their children are doing instruction at home. De Blasio said on Wednesday that help for parents was “something we’re going to be building as we go along.” Beyond hybrid models, experts have proposed broader solutions to help parents and students, some complex and some simple. For many, getting kids back to school starts with controlling the virus, and actually prioritizing education in reopening plans. As epidemiologist Helen Jenkins wrote in a series of viral tweets, the key question is not how to safely reopen schools amid high viral transmission, but how to keep community transmission low enough that schools are safe. That might mean keeping other venues, like bars or restaurants, closed in order to maintain a low level of the virus in the community, as Vox’s German Lopez has reported. “Activity in some other sectors of the economy will need to be reduced to preserve the education, feeding, socialization, and safety of our children — and the ability of parents to do their work,” Jenkins and fellow epidemiologist William Hanage wrote in a Washington Post op-ed. “Schools should be prioritized.” Beyond keeping the virus under control, some have called for changes within schools. Outdoor classes, for example, would likely reduce transmission risk in places where weather permits. For teachers who do go back to the classroom, hazard pay would at least help compensate them for the risk they face. “The case can be made quite easily that there are some jobs where the risk of exposure is much greater, and thus like any other risky job, such as coal mining, you take risk into account in terms of the compensation,” Holder said. “If an essential or front-line worker gets sick, they need resources to rely on if they do have to withdraw from the labor force.” “To think about going into a building with kids and staff providing a lot of their own PPE is scary” And while hybrid models could keep students and teachers safer by reducing class size, parents will need solutions for the hours when their kids are home. One possibility, for some, is paid leave. Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, parents are already entitled to up to 12 weeks of leave at partial pay if a child’s school or day care center is closed due to the virus. However, as with other paid leave provisions in recent legislation, many employers, including those with over 500 employees, are exempt from the requirement, Pronita Gupta, director of the job quality program at the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), told Vox. And employees have to negotiate leave with their employers, which could make it difficult for them to get the time they’re entitled to, especially if hybrid schooling in the fall necessitates a complex child care schedule. The paid leave requirement expires on December 31, but CLASP advocates for it to be extended, as well as expanded to cover workers not currently included, Gupta said. Still, paid leave under the CARES Act “is definitely not a long-term solution for the issues around child care,” she said. “We see this as very, very much a temporary relief situation.” Others have proposed larger-scale solutions that would help parents work even if kids don’t go back to school full time. For example, Elena Tuerk, a child psychologist at the University of Virginia, has proposed a corps of child care providers, potentially paid for by states or the federal government, who could supervise children when their parents are at work. Such an effort could be administered through the existing AmeriCorps program, and families could apply based on their work schedules and financial needs and be matched with trained caregivers in their communities, Tuerk told Vox. Ideally, those caregivers “would see this as an opportunity to serve, which it really is,” she said. But such a program — and indeed, all broad-based solutions to the problem of education in a pandemic — would require government investment and administration. And so far, there’s been little political will to tackle the problems that families are facing this fall. Instead, Trump, for his part, appears to be merely antagonizing school leaders, making threats about pulling funding that he may not even legally be able to fulfill. “I think we’re sort of taking for granted that parents are going to make do the way they might have in the spring,” Tuerk said, “but the amount of disruption that is causing to people’s work lives, and in particular to women’s work lives, is not okay long term.” In addition to the economic impact, there’s also evidence that parents’ mental health is suffering — in one survey conducted between late April and early May, 46 percent of people with children under 18 said their stress level is high most days, compared with 28 percent of people without young kids. Meanwhile, 71 percent of parents said managing distance learning was a major source of stress. Ablordeppey is intimately familiar with the anxiety of trying to raise kids during a pandemic. “You come home, you can’t even sleep,” he said, “then you have to go back to work.” As the pandemic continues, parents like him who work outside the home need financial support to help them afford child care. “You can hire somebody to come and watch your kids,” he said, but then, “the little money that you’re making at work, you have to pay the babysitter.” But so far, Ablordeppey has seen little leadership from politicians to address the needs of families like his. He also believes, whether online or not, schools should provide counseling to help students deal with the mental health impact of the pandemic. Instead, he said, “it’s like everybody’s on their own.” Support Vox’s explanatory journalism Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.
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