World Insights: U.S. government faces major test in reopening schools amid pandemic

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by Matthew Rusling

WASHINGTON, Feb. 15 (Xinhua) — Roger, a high school teacher in the area around Washington DC, has already been vaccinated, but his school has yet to reopen.

Roger, who declined to give his full name, said he believes schools need to reopen, as children are missing out on critical education in the most crucial years.

LONGING FOR SCHOOL REOPENING

U.S. President Joe Biden faces a major challenge in reopening schools, amid a pandemic that has millions of children staying home and grinds education to a halt. He pledged in December last year to reopen the majority of the country’s schools in his first 100 days after taking office.

For nearly a year, millions of children have been studying online following school closures. Parents are pushing hard to reopen schools, as children fall further behind.

The closures have a particularly negative impact on minority and lower-income families, as children are missing the free meals provided at all U.S. public schools, as well as mentoring and guidance that children from broken homes may not receive from parents.

“Reopening schools is crucial because so many activities take place there. These institutions are responsible for educating young people, feeding low-income students, and providing day care and after-school enrichment for local communities,” Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Darrell West told Xinhua.

“Without them, parents have problems at every level and have difficulty handling all the things that pupils need,” West said.

Clay Ramsay, a researcher at the center for international and security studies at the University of Maryland, told Xinhua that seeing schools reopen “in a big way” would be “proof-of-concept for the (Biden) administration’s overall project.”

But to do that, the government must pass Biden’s COVID-19 relief package, Ramsay noted, which has well over 100 billion U.S. dollars in it for school systems to deal with the pandemic, and get that aid out and functioning.

The vaccine roll-out also has to keep accelerating continuously, Ramsay added. Biden’s goal is to vaccinate 100 million Americans in his first 100 days.

Over 70 million vaccine doses have been distributed and a total of more than 52.8 million doses have been administered as of Sunday morning, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

MOST CHILDREN IN “RED ZONE”

The CDC on Friday unveiled new guidance on safely reopening schools, requiring masks, physical distancing, handwashing, maintaining clean facilities and contact tracing.

The guidance advises schools to phase in their reopening plans in accordance with the severity of the outbreak in their areas. It offers a color-coded chart that divides schools’ reopening options into four zones: blue, yellow, orange and red.

Districts with low community spread, which are blue with 0 to 9 new cases per 100,000 in past 7 days, or moderate transmission, which are yellow with 10 to 49 new cases, are encouraged to consider reopening for full, in-person learning.

Schools in areas with substantial transmission, which are orange with 50 to 99 new cases per 100,000, may still consider a limited reopening, as long as they can layer multiple safety strategies in the classroom.

In hard-hit communities, which are red zones with more than 100 new cases per 100,000, elementary schools may consider limited reopening, with physical distancing required, but middle and high schools are recommended to be virtual-only unless mitigation strategies can be met.

“I think it can be done. I mean, obviously it’s not a perfect situation, but it’s really important to get the children back to school in a safest way as possible. Safe for the children, but also safe for the teachers and the other educators,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.

About 89 percent of children in the U.S. live in a county considered a red zone with high levels of COVID-19 transmission under new CDC school opening guidelines, according to a CNN analysis of federal data.

The country has recorded over 27.6 million cases with more than 486,000 related deaths as of Monday afternoon, according to the real-time count kept by Johns Hopkins University. Enditem

(Xinhua correspondents in Washington Yang Shilong, Tan Jingjing contributed to the story)

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