U.S. School District Cancels Classes After Teacher ‘Sick Out’ Over Virus Fears

The Four Percent


A school district outside Phoenix has canceled its plans to reopen schools next week after teachers staged a “sick out” in protest.

“We have received a high volume of staff absences for Monday citing health and safety concerns,” Gregory A. Wyman, the superintendent of the J.O. Combs Unified School District, said in a letter to families posted online Friday.

The “overwhelming response” from staff has hamstrung plans to begin the semester, and the district “cannot yet confirm when in-person instruction may resume,” Mr. Wyman said. Virtual classes were also canceled for the time being, though breakfasts and lunches will be available for pickup.

The J.O. Combs school district, which includes seven schools, according to its website, had moved forward with a plan to reopen despite falling short of benchmarks that the Arizona Department of Health Services had said must be met before in-person instruction resumed.

While new cases have fallen sharply in Arizona since a peak in July, according to data compiled by The New York Times, state information released on Thursday shows that no county in the Phoenix metropolitan area has met all the benchmarks necessary for in-person learning.

The staff rebellion against the early opening comes after some schools in other parts of the country have struggled to safely open and enforce precautionary behavior among students.

With the United States facing an alarming drop in coronavirus testing that threatens to undermine national monitoring efforts, the Food and Drug Administration granted emergency authorization for a new saliva-based test to detect the virus.

The new test, SalivaDirect, was developed by researchers at Yale University with some of the funding coming from the N.B.A. and the National Basketball Players Association, the university announced on Saturday in a news release. The method, it said, was being further validated through testing of asymptomatic N.B.A. players and staff members.

SalivaDirect is not the first test of its kind to secure the F.D.A.’s backing — a lab affiliated with Rutgers University received emergency authorization in May for a similar test.

Public health officials have argued for months that to get a handle on the pandemic, the United States still needs to increase overall testing, perhaps up to four million people daily, including many who are asymptomatic. But reported daily tests have trended downward for much of August and testing shortages have remained pervasive in many states.

According to the release, the researchers said they developed the test with affordability in mind, looking for ways to cut costs such as by eliminating the need for expensive collection tubes. They said they hoped labs could administer the test for around $10 per sample, contributing another test that could help combat the recent testing slowdown.

Health officials in South Korea reported 279 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, warning of a resurgence of infections, many linked to a church that has vocally opposed President Moon Jae-in.

South Korea had battled the epidemic down to two-digit daily caseloads since April. But the number of new cases has soared in recent days, with 103 on Friday and 166 on Saturday, most of them worshipers at the Sarang Jeil Church in Seoul, the capital, and another church in the surrounding province of Gyeonggi.

President Moon on Sunday warned of a surge in infections in coming days as health officials rush to test thousands of ​church ​members and their contacts. He called the crisis at Sarang Jeil the biggest challenge faced by health officials since a similar outbreak five months ago at the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in the central city of Daegu, about 150 miles southeast of Seoul.

Members of Sarang Jeil were reportedly among thousands who attended an antigovernment rally in Seoul on Saturday. On the same day, Kwon Jun-wook, deputy director of the government’s Central Disease Control Headquarters, warned of “early signs of a large-scale resurgence of the virus.”

Over the weekend the government tightened social-distancing rules in Seoul and Gyeonggi Province, limiting indoor gatherings to below 50 and outdoor gatherings to below 100. The new rules also bar spectators from professional baseball and soccer games and empower the authorities to shut down high-risk facilities like bars, karaoke rooms and buffet restaurants if they fail to take stricter preventive measures.

Virus fears also prompted South Korea and the U.S. on Sunday to delay an annual joint military drill by two days, rescheduling it to begin on Tuesday. The allies decided to postpone the exercise after a South Korean Army officer who was expected to participate in the drill tested positive.

President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa said Saturday that there were “signs of hope” that the virus had retreated from its peak levels in the country, and announced the easing of some of the strictest lockdown restrictions in the world.

In a televised address, Mr. Ramaphosa said that the number of new confirmed cases had dropped over the past week to some 5,000 daily cases from a high of about 12,000 a day.

“All indications are that South Africa has reached the peak and moved beyond the inflection point of the curve,” he said, adding that infections had most likely peaked in the three most populous provinces, including in Gauteng, home of the economic capital, Johannesburg.

The country will now move to a so-called Level 2 alert at midnight on Monday, meaning bans on the sale of tobacco and alcohol will be scrapped, travel between provinces will be allowed, and bars, restaurants and taverns will return to normal business, subject to strict hygiene regulations, Mr. Ramaphosa said. Gatherings of up to 50 people will also be allowed.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of the House Democratic leadership are considering cutting the chamber’s summer recess short in order to deal with the crisis unfolding in the United States Postal Service, two people familiar with the talks said on Saturday. While the House is not scheduled to return for votes until Sept. 14, Democratic leaders could call lawmakers back in the next two weeks.

Accounts of slowdowns and curtailed service have emerged across the country since Louis DeJoy, a Republican megadonor and an ally of President Trump’s, took over as postmaster general in May. Mr. DeJoy has been pushing cost-cutting measures like reduced hours and the elimination of overtime pay that he says are intended to overhaul an agency sustaining billion-dollar losses.

Mr. Trump has tried to pin Postal Service funding troubles on Democrats, and he rails almost daily against voting by mail. Voting-rights advocates and postal workers have warned that the growing crisis could disenfranchise millions of Americans who plan to cast their ballots by mail in November because of the virus outbreak.

Among the legislative options under consideration is a measure that would require the Postal Service to maintain current service standards until after the pandemic is over. Lawmakers are also discussing adding language that would ensure that all ballot-related mail is considered first-class mail and treated as such.

While Democrats have been fighting to include funding for the Postal Service in a coronavirus relief package, it is unlikely that party members will act on a standalone funding bill, said the two people, who asked for anonymity to disclose details of private discussions.

In other developments around the U.S.:

“I think it’s fair to say we have not distinguished ourselves in a positive way by how we responded to the crisis when it was upon us,” he said. “We have 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of the deaths due to Covid-19, and there’s no way to spin that in a positive light.”

Mr. Romney said he supported proposals to increase funding to states that are bracing for a flood of mailed ballots this fall. Many voters are expected to be wary of casting ballots in person.

“I would prefer us providing additional funds for states that don’t have as effective voting systems,” he said.

Mr. Romney dismissed out of hand warnings by Mr. Trump and his allies that an increase in mail-in voting would lead to rampant voter fraud.

He argued that it would be easier to investigate potentially fraudulent mailed ballots than to detect foreign efforts to attack or manipulate in-person electronic voting systems — a threat to democracy he described as comparable to the president’s attacks on mail-in voting.

“We should make every effort to assure that people who want to vote get the chance to vote, and that’s more important even than the outcome of the vote,” Mr. Romney said. “We have got to preserve the principle of democracy, or the trend we’re on is going to continue to get worse.”

The chaotic response to the coronavirus in Brazil, where it has killed more than 105,000 people, made the country’s experience a cautionary tale that many around the world have watched with alarm.

But as the country’s caseload soared, vaccine researchers saw a unique opportunity.

With sustained widespread contagion, a deep bench of immunization experts, a robust medical manufacturing infrastructure and thousands of vaccine trial volunteers, Brazil has emerged as a potentially vital player in the global scramble to end the pandemic.

Three of the most promising and advanced vaccine studies in the world are relying on scientists and volunteers in Brazil, according to the World Health Organization’s report on the progress of vaccine research.

The embattled government hopes its citizens could be among the first in the world to be inoculated. And medical experts are imagining the possibility that Brazil could even manufacture the vaccine and export it to neighboring countries, a prospect that fills them with something that has been in short supply this year: pride.

Brazil will be the only country other than the United States to be playing a major role in three of the leading studies as an unparalleled quest for a vaccine has led to unusually fast regulatory approvals and hastily brokered partnerships.

Brazil’s explosive caseload has made it the second hardest-hit nation in the world after the United States. While other countries in the region have higher per capita rates, experts have assailed President Jair Bolsonaro’s cavalier handling of the crisis.

The president, who caught the virus in July, has called it a “measly flu” and sabotaged calls for quarantines and lockdowns.

Recruiting volunteers for the ongoing studies in Brazil has not been a challenge, said Soraya Smaili, the president at the Federal University of São Paulo, which is involved in one of the studies.

“People have stepped forward and everyone wants to be part of the solution,” she said. “This has been a lovely social movement.”

Brazil has a universal public health care system with one of the best immunization programs in the developing world, which has enabled it to contain outbreaks of yellow fever, measles and other pathogens.

A coronavirus breakthrough could galvanize the country’s vaccine sector. It could also invigorate its scientific institutions, which employ world-class scientists but have been reeling after years of budget cuts that have weakened the public health care system and dented the country’s reputation as a research powerhouse.

As U.S. cities’ transit budgets have been crippled by the pandemic, passengers have endured long waits amid reduced service, and then often boarded crowded trains or buses, raising fears of exposure to the coronavirus.

Public transit leaders across the country have issued dire warnings to Congress, saying that the $25 billion in aid they received in March is quickly drying up. And without more help, they say, their systems will face a death spiral, in which cuts to service make public transit less convenient for the public, prompting further drops in ridership that lead to spiraling revenue loss and more service cuts.

Yet Congress has shown few signs that it will soon pass another stimulus package or that such a deal would include any of the $32 billion in new assistance that transit experts say is needed.

“It seems like we’re invisible, and they don’t care about us,” said Nina Red, a New Orleans resident who said her bus trip to the grocery store now sometimes took almost three hours instead of the usual one.

Ridership on top city systems has declined 70 to 90 percent during the pandemic, and sales tax revenue, which fuels many transit agency budgets, has cratered because of a collapsing economy.

As a result, cities like San Francisco have cut half their bus lines. In New Orleans, where 14 percent of transit workers have tested positive for the virus, fare revenue has dropped 45 percent.

And as service cuts have begun, experts say the brunt of the problem is being borne by the nation’s low-income residents, people of color and essential workers. Two economic studies have found Black people could be dying at nearly double the rate of white people from the coronavirus, in part because of their heavier reliance on public transportation.

Experts say the greater ability of higher-income workers to work remotely or to use cars highlights another systemic inequity that has become glaringly obvious during the pandemic.

“People with enough money can choose to opt out for a while,” said Beth Osborne, the director of Transportation for America, an advocacy group. “That’s quite a luxury.”

The cruise industry worldwide has been crushed by the pandemic. Large-scale outbreaks struck ship after megalithic ship, starting with Carnival’s Diamond Princess. It moored in the Japanese harbor of Yokohama, passengers and crew stuck onboard as the caseload grew to 712, with a death toll of nine.

Last month, U.S. health authorities extended a ban on cruises to Sept. 30, blaming cruise lines for outbreaks on 123 cruise ships in U.S. waters alone.

Leonardo Massa, the managing director of MSC Italy, said in a phone interview that the company had spent the past five months working on a health-and-safety protocol that respected international standards.

The Grandiosa normally carries around 6,000 passengers but will be working at half capacity during the initial cruises.

Both crew members and passengers will be tested for the coronavirus before embarking the ship. Passengers who wish to go ashore will be limited to excursions coordinated by MSC. Some crew members have been tasked with ensuring that social distancing is maintained, and the onboard medical team has been expanded to three doctors and six nurses.

“We have made the maximum effort possible” to guarantee safety, Mr. Massa said. A section of the ship has been set aside for any passengers who become infected.

On Aug. 29, a second MSC ship, the Magnifica, will begin offering week-long cruises of the eastern Mediterranean, departing from the Italian city of Bari for the Greek Islands.

As the school year ended and summer began, Page Curtin was looking at a summer of canceled plans for her three children.

Then she heard about a program that aimed to teach girls financial, entrepreneurial and business skills in a five-week virtual program. Her 12-year-old daughter jumped at the opportunity, and during the program she joined other girls to create a mask awareness campaign driven by tweens.

When Southern California’s soaring coronavirus caseload forced Chapman University this month to abandon plans to reopen its campus and instead shift to an autumn of all-remote instruction, the school promised that students would still get a “robust Chapman experience.”

“What about a robust refund?” Christopher Moore, a spring graduate, retorted on Facebook.

A parent chimed in: “We are paying a lot of money for tuition, and our students are not getting what we paid for,” wrote Shannon Carducci, whose youngest child, Ally, is a sophomore at Chapman, where the cost of attendance averages $65,000 a year.

Back when they believed Ally would be attending classes in person, her parents leased a $1,200-a-month apartment for her. Now, Ms. Carducci said, she plans to ask for a tuition discount.

A rebellion against the high cost of a bachelor’s degree, already brewing around the United States before the coronavirus, has gathered momentum as campuses have strained to operate in the pandemic.

At Rutgers University, more than 30,000 people have signed a petition started in July calling for the elimination of fees and a 20 percent tuition cut. More than 40,000 have signed a plea asking the University of North Carolina system to house students in the event of another Covid-19-related campus shutdown. And about 340 Harvard freshmen — roughly a fifth of the first-year class — deferred admission rather than possibly spending part of the year online.

Universities have been divided in their response, with some offering discounts but most resisting.

The White Mountain Apache tribe, spread across a large reservation in eastern Arizona, has been infected with the virus at more than 10 times the rate of people in the state as a whole.

Yet their death rate from Covid-19 is far lower, just 1.3 percent, as compared with 2.1 percent in Arizona. Epidemiologists wonder whether intensive contact tracing on the reservation enabled teams to find and treat gravely ill people before it was too late to save them.

Contact tracing is generally used to identify and isolate the infected, and to slow the spread of the virus. Elsewhere in the United States, the strategy is largely failing as tracers struggle to keep up with widespread infections.

But on the reservation, contact tracers — equipped with oximeters, to detect low blood oxygen levels in people who often didn’t realize they were seriously ill — have discovered effective new tactics as they trek from home to faraway home.

Experts suggest that their approach may offer a new strategy for reducing deaths in some of the hardest-hit communities, especially among those in housing where multiple generations share space.

Dr. Vincent Marconi, the director of infectious diseases research at Emory University in Atlanta, said it was “incredible” that contact tracing could have such an effect on a population so disadvantaged and at such high risk.

If the reservation’s methods have lowered death rates, he added, “then absolutely, without a doubt, this needs to be replicated elsewhere.”

The challenge is to maintain distance from struggling swimmers — an odd notion to most lifeguards, who are largely trained to never lose contact with them.

Generally, lifeguards pass swimmers a rescue buoy and then clasp them across the chest. Now, to avoid making contact, many guards approach people from behind, pass them the buoy and tow them in using the buoy line.

For the Fryson brothers, the year began on a hopeful note. They had reunited with their mother, Beatrice McMillian, after years in foster care.

Ms. McMillian had secured rental assistance for an apartment so that she could move out of a homeless shelter. The older brother, Kasaun, was embarking on adulthood, working at Whole Foods and attending community college.

The younger brother, EJ, was living with his mother and doing well in high school. Then, in April, Ms. McMillian died of Covid-19 and her death shattered everything the family had gained. Mr. Fryson, 22, headed to court to try to become his brother’s guardian and keep him from returning to foster care. “He needs someone, and I’m going to be that person,” Mr. Fryson said.

If your children will not be returning to classrooms this fall, you may have considered joining with another family to create a learning pod, or even hiring a tutor to assist in your children’s studies. There are some other options.

Reporting was contributed by Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Luke Broadwater, Choe Sang-Hun, Emily Cochrane, Marie Fazio, Shawn Hubler, Corey Kilgannon, Gina Kolata, Zach Montague, Sarah Mervosh, Aimee Ortiz, Elisabetta Povoledo, Nikita Stewart, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Paul Sullivan, Maria Varenikova, Pranshu Verma and Will Wright.


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