The United States needs to lower the COVID-19 transmission rate in order to reopen schools, the Surgeon General said Tuesday.
Speaking with CBS Jerome Adams said: ‘What I want people to know is the biggest determinant of whether or not we can go back to school actually has little to nothing to do with the actual schools – it’s your background transmission rate.’
His warning comes as President Donald Trump pushes for schools to reopen. Statistics show that as of Monday just 12 US states had a transmission rate – the average number of people each Covid-19 patient infects – below 1.0. The remaining states show values over 1.0 which means we should expect more cases there.
And Adams warned: ‘It’s why we’ve told people constantly that if we want to get back to school, to worship, to regular life – folks need to wear face coverings, folks need to practice social distancing. Those public health measures are actually what’s going to lower the transmission rate.’
Republicans, Democrats and the White House are debating the latest #coronavirus relief bill proposals ¿ as cases continue to increase nationwide.
U.S. @Surgeon_General @JeromeAdamsMD discusses more on the relief bill, testing, and the push to reopen schools this fall. pic.twitter.com/hZHU16iUrA
Adams added: ‘We know the risk is low to the actual students. But we know they can transmit to others. We need to take measures to make sure we protect those who are vulnerable either because they are older or they have chronic medical conditions.’
Nearly every metric for most of the US is currently growing worse, including a rising number of cases, deaths, hospitalizations and rates of positive test results.
The 12 US states with a transmission rate under 1.0 of Monday are; Utah, South Dakota, Maine, Connecticut, New Jersey, Arizona, New Hampshire, Delaware, South Carolina, Ohio, Washington and Oregon. The rest show values over 1.0.
Kentucky, Alaska and Idaho are currently showing the highest transmission rates across the US.
Idaho, which has a population of 1.8million, is seeing a resurgence of Covid-19 as it sweeps through the South and West.
Hard hit states Florida and California are both registering a transmission rate of 1.01. Texas sits at 1.0 as of Monday afternoon.
New York, once the epicenter of the virus, has a current transmission rate of 1.02.
The virus has killed 140,000 Americans and infected some 3.7 million, both figures leading the world.
Health experts have strongly condemned the idea of allowing schools to reopen as the coronavirus pandemic rages on.
Opponents of reopening schools say that even though children have statistically been less affected by the virus, they could still be exposed on campus and then bring it home to their families, leading to rampant spread within communities.
They’ve also pointed to an apparent increase in the number of children testing positive for COVID-19 amid surges across the county, as well as the growing prevalence of a mysterious pediatric inflammatory disease linked to the virus.
And teachers unions have begun pushing back on what they see as unnecessarily aggressive timetables for reopening.
But with the pandemic showing no signs of easing, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Washington must develop a strategy to safely reopen schools and businesses until a vaccine can be found.
‘We need to carve out a new normal,’ Republican McConnell said.
A stimulus package from McConnell, being crafted behind closed doors, is expected to include at least $70 billion to help schools reopen.
Schools in New York may resume in September with both in-class and remote learning, but state guidance only allows schools to reopen in areas where the daily infection rate is below 5 per cent of all tests for the novel coronavirus.
The largest unions across the US say the timing should be guided by whether districts have the ability – and funding – to implement protocols and precautions to protect students and teachers, even if that means balking at calls from President Donald Trump to resume in-person instruction.
On Monday, a teachers union filed a lawsuit to block the reopening of schools in Florida, where state officials have ordered school districts to reopen campuses as an option unless local health officials deem that to be unsafe.
Educators in several cities have called for the school year to start with remote instruction. Some have joined demonstrations in Arizona, where three teachers sharing a classroom during summer school tested positive for the virus and one died.
‘The conversation is being driven by what they want to do for the economy,’ said Regina Fuentes, a high school English instructor in Columbus, Ohio, who is entering her 22nd year of teaching. ‘Teachers and students shouldn´t have to go back to school just to save the economy.’
A recent analysis from the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation estimated nearly one-quarter of the nation´s teachers – nearly 1.5 million – are considered higher-risk for serious illness from the coronavirus because of other health conditions or age.
On Monday Missouri Governor Mike Parson has said schools in the state must reopen this fall even though he believes all children will contract coronavirus as a result.
Parson caused a stir with cavalier remarks he made in defense of his decision to reopen schools on a St Louis radio show on Friday.
‘These kids have got to get back to school. They’re at the lowest risk possible,’ the Republican governor told FM NewsTalk host Marc Cox.
‘And if they do get COVID-19, which they will – and they will when they go to school – they’re not going to the hospitals.
‘They’re not going to have to sit in doctor’s offices. They’re going to go home and they’re going to get over it.’
Missouri has seen an alarming uptick in infections in recent weeks, with a record 958 new cases confirmed on Saturday.
The state has reported more than 35,200 cases and 1,167 deaths to date.
President Trump has been one of the most outspoken proponents of reopening schools, and has even threatened to cut off federal funding if they don’t.
‘Young people have to go to school, and there’s problems when you don´t go to school, too,’ Trump said in an interview aired Sunday on Fox News.
‘And there’s going to be a funding problem because we’re not going to fund when they don’t open their schools.’
Most states are leaving it up to individual districts to determine whether they should reopen.
‘I fear that there has been this sense that kids just won’t get infected or don’t get infected in the same way as adults and that, therefore, they’re almost like a bubbled population,’ Dr Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told The New York Times.
‘There will be transmission. What we have to do is accept that now and include that in our plans.’