More US schools go online-only as Florida COVID-19 deaths surge

Despite record increase in deaths, Florida still plans for its schools to resume in-person learning in August.

With coronavirus infections and deaths rising in many parts of the country, United States educators from California to Wisconsin are opting for online learning rather than a return to classrooms when the school year begins in a few weeks.

Florida reported a record increase in COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday with 133 more lives lost, raising the state’s total deaths to more than 4,500. The previous record increase was 120 on July 9.

The state recorded more than 9,000 new cases on Tuesday, down from 12,000 on Monday and a record increase of 15,000 on Sunday.

Mayor of Tampa Jane Castor blamed the recent surge on the recent easing of economic restrictions, adding that test results often take as many as 7-10 days, complicating data-collection efforts and delaying critical decision making.  

“[W]e’ve had tremendous surge in positive cases, among our younger population from 25 to 34, actually 21 to about 30 we’ve seen a huge surge, and that corresponded with the opening of bars which have been shut back down,” Castor said in an interview with local media on Tuesday.

Schools from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Fort Bend County, Texas, joined California’s two largest school districts, Los Angeles and San Diego, in announcing plans to keep teachers and students from the close contact that classrooms demand.

The decision puts the districts at odds with US President Donald Trump, who has threatened to withhold federal funds or remove tax-exempt status if they refuse to reopen classrooms, even though most schools are financed by state and local taxes.

Trump’s campaign views the reopening of classrooms, enabling parents to get back to work, as a key to economic recovery and a boost to his re-election chances on November 3.

Los Angeles and San Diego schools said in a joint statement on Monday that countries that have safely reopened schools have done so only after establishing declining infection rates and on-demand coronavirus testing.

US coronavirus cases rose in 46 of 50 states last week and the number of deaths rose nationally last week for the first time since mid-April and about six weeks after cases began to increase, according to a Reuters analysis.

With more than 3.3 million COVID-19 cases, the US ranks first in the world in cases per capita, according to a Reuters analysis, and with 135,000 deaths, ranks seventh in deaths per capita among the 20 countries with the most cases.

Long waits for tests, results 

Testing in several states has been plagued by long lines and waits of more than a week to learn the results, according to numerous posts on social media and videos at test locations.

Teachers in Loudoun County, Virginia, protested outside school headquarters on Monday with one woman fully enclosed in a white lab suit and face shield holding a sign that said, “Our new school uniform”. To keep physically distant, the teachers honked their car horns in unison, according to a video.

Faculty members were protesting a school board plan for hybrid instruction that would include two days of in-person teaching, according to local media.

After experiencing nearly 16,000 new cases in the last two days, California further retreated from reopening its economy.

California Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, ordered bars to close and restaurants, cinemas, zoos and museums across the country’s most populous state to cease indoor operations. Gyms, churches and hair salons must close in the 30 hardest-hit counties.

“It’s incumbent upon all of us to recognise soberly that COVID-19 is not going away any time soon, until there is a vaccine and/or an effective therapy,” Newsom said at a news briefing.

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