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US: Anxious. Helpless. Upset. Omicron surge leaves U.S. parents, teachers and students on edge

UK health service under 'extreme' strain amid omicron surge

  UK health service under 'extreme' strain amid omicron surge LONDON (AP) — The leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party tested positive for the coronavirus and will miss the chance to grill Prime Minister Boris Johnson about the government's COVID-19 policies Wednesday as soaring infections strain the U.K. health system. Johnson said Tuesday that the country has “a chance to ride out” the omicron variant-driven surge in infections without imposing tough lockdown measures. He is scheduled to answer questions in Parliament on Wednesday afternoon and to deliver a statement on COVID-19.

"The parents would still have to apply, pass the fingerprint criminal background check, and do the orientation. However, if the principal knows them and recommends them, we can waive the requirement that they have at least 30 college hours," Savoy told ABC News. Normally, the Hays CISD would have a pool of 500 substitute teachers available, but because of the delta variant, the district started the school year with only 100, Savoy said. The pool increased to 300, however the omicron variant has made the demand for substitutes increase, according to Savoy.

As the Omicron variant of COVID-19 surges in South Carolina, some Midlands school districts are having a hard time finding healthy teachers to fill classrooms. Ross reiterated that the main priority is keeping students in the classroom. “If we believe that we can provide instruction, safety and supervision, those won’t be compromised, that building will be open,” he said. CrossRoads Intermediate School currently has the highest percentage of students out across Lexington-Richland 5 with 38.2 percent.

Tierra Pearson suspected the winter months would mean a sharp surge in coronavirus cases. So the Chicago mother made sure she and her two sons — seventh- and 10th-graders — were fully vaccinated.

Students and parents arrive at Jordan Community Public School in Chicago. (Ashlee Rezin / Chicago Sun-Times) © Provided by LA Times Students and parents arrive at Jordan Community Public School in Chicago. (Ashlee Rezin / Chicago Sun-Times)

“We were going to be prepared,” she recalled.

But as she kept the TV news on around the clock over much of the last two weeks, watching in dismay as leaders of the Chicago Teachers Union and Mayor Lori Lightfoot battled over safety precautions and schools reopening, Pearson felt far from prepared. She felt helpless.

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  At least 9 African countries set to produce COVID vaccines, Africa’s CDC chief says Despite Africa's low vaccination rates, the continent's early, robust response has helped mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the continent so far, says Dr. John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And he predicts many more vaccines will be available in 2022, with a strong emphasis on distribution.A man gets vaccinated against COVID-19 at a site near Johannesburg, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021.

Fighting the omicron variant surging through the country, President Joe Biden announced the government will provide 500 million free rapid home-testing kits, increase support for hospitals under strain and redouble vaccination and boosting efforts. A cornerstone of the plan is for the government to purchase 500 million coronavirus rapid tests for free shipment to Americans starting in January. People will use a new website to order their tests, which will then be sent by U . S . mail at no charge.

The Omicron variant of the coronavirus has been found through testing in about 22 states so far after first being identified in southern Africa and Hong Kong in late November. Among the Omicron cases, 25 were in people aged 18 to 39 and 14 had traveled internationally. Symptoms would also be expected to be milder in vaccinated persons and those with previous SARS-CoV-2 infection. The first known U . S . Omicron case was identified on Dec 1 in a fully vaccinated person who had traveled to South Africa.

“We as parents were totally left out of the conversation,” she said. “We had no voice about our schools, and that was truly a shame.”

As the Omicron variant continues to propel a massive surge in infections that has hit many educators and school staff, parents across the nation are faced with painful deja vu: toggling between virtual and in-person schooling and trying to keep up with constantly evolving district policies.

This week the Biden administration announced that it is planning to make 10 million COVID-19 test kits available each month for schools as part of its push to keep classrooms open during this wave of infections — a critical step considering that vaccination rates are lower among children.

Overall, 63% of Americans are fully vaccinated, but among children ages 12 to 17 the rate sits at 54% and among those 5 to 11, the rate drops to 17%. (In Vermont, 48% of that age group are vaccinated; in California, nearly 19%; and in Mississippi, 5%.)

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  Finding it hard to get tested for COVID-19 and wondering who’s to blame? We’ve got answers The fast-moving omicron variant has exposed the nation’s testing capacity as still insufficient, a situation exacerbated by post-holiday demandBut the fast-moving variant has exposed the nation’s testing capacity as still insufficient, a situation exacerbated by the holidays as companies test returning employees and schools and universities screen students and staff. Confronted with empty store shelves or lengthy lines at testing sites nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, frustrated consumers, doctors and public health workers wonder who's at fault.

The full impact of the Omicron surge on the country' s school districts may not be clear until next week, as parents and administrators struggle to implement changing guidance from healthcare officials. The U . S . Food and Drug Administration on Monday authorized use of a third dose of the Pfizer (PFE.N) and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 12 to 15, and narrowed the interval for booster eligibility to five months from six for those who received the Pfizer shots. In Boston, the school system distributed 55,000 tests to students ahead of the winter break.

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But disruptions have occurred and at regular intervals.

On average, about 4% of schools across the country — 4,179 of 98,000 schools — dealt with COVID-19 disruptions such as closures this week, according to Burbio, a K-12 school opening tracker. That’s down slightly from 5,376 schools last week and a fraction of the peak that occurred around Labor Day 2020 when more than 60% of schools were closed, said Dennis Roche, Burbio's co-founder.

Most of the closures were in the Northeast and Midwest, but some schools were starting to close in the West and South, Roche said. In Minneapolis, schools will go virtual for two weeks starting Friday because of a surge in Omicron cases among teachers. In Louisville, Ky., Jefferson County Public Schools shifted to remote learning because of COVID staffing shortages, while in the Portland, Ore., metro area, school districts moved to remote learning due to surges in cases and teachers being out sick.

Omicron fuels unprecedented spike in COVID-19 cases

  Omicron fuels unprecedented spike in COVID-19 cases The omicron variant is fueling an unprecedented spike in COVID-19 cases and placing a strain on hospital capacity, but experts say the spike could play out in the shape of an "ice pick" - a sharp but fast increase - that may leave the U.S. on better footing as soon as next month. The U.S. health care system is in for significant pain in the short term, but the fast surge could even help defeat the pandemic in the longer term by conveying broader immunity.

But unlike during past surges of the virus, there’ s less appetite among administrators, parents and policymakers for remote learning—much to the frustration of some teachers and students . So how exactly do school districts plan on keeping doors to their campuses open when spiking coronavirus These days, school closures are primarily caused by staff shortages rather than student illnesses or a sense that schools can’t operate safely in person, says Bree Dusseault principal at the Center on Reinventing Public Education. And she says expectations have changed compared to other times

Across the U.S., students are threatening boycotts and walkouts. The Oakland Unified School District faces such a strike unless it addresses a list of pandemic health and safety concerns. Students want the district to return to remote learning unless it provides KN95 masks for all kids and are calling for increased testing, among other demands. On Jan. 7, 12 district schools were forced to close after teachers staged a “sickout,” citing COVID worries. About 500 teachers were reported absent. And in New York, hundreds of students in recent days boycotted classes and staged walkouts over concerns about testing and called for remote learning to be implemented.

“We’re really in a pressure cooker situation right now, because American families are holding up the economy, we're holding up the healthcare system and then we're also expected to hold up the public education system,” said Keri Rodrigues, president of the National Parents Union, a network of grass-roots parent groups. “A lot of families across this country are absolutely at their breaking point.”

China on high alert as Covid-19 cluster in Tianjin edges closer to Beijing weeks before the Olympics

  China on high alert as Covid-19 cluster in Tianjin edges closer to Beijing weeks before the Olympics Officials in Beijing are on high alert just weeks out from the start of the Winter Olympics, after China's first local outbreak of the Omicron variant spread from the northern port city of Tianjin to the central province of Henan. © Visual China Group/Getty Images Residents wait in line to get tested for Covid-19 on January 9 in Tianjin, China. Tianjin, located just 80 miles southeast of Beijing, is testing its entire population of 14 million people after Omicron was detected in at least two local residents Saturday -- the country's first reported community spread of the highly transmittable variant.

For many parents who live paycheck to paycheck, taking a few days off when schools close can mean the difference between having groceries or not and making rent or not, Rodrigues said. Beyond the financial loss, many parents worried that their kids' mental health and grades would deteriorate when schools switch to remote learning.

“When you close down schools over an abundance of caution, understand what you are asking of American families who are already at the brink,” she said.

This week the Clark County School District, which spans Las Vegas and is the nation’s fifth largest school system with more than 320,000 students, announced it was canceling classes for two days due to extreme staffing shortages.

Jessica Atlas, a 46-year-old single mother, was already frustrated with the school district for not planning activities for her son, Ashton, 9, while he quarantined this week after he caught the flu and she tested positive for the coronavirus.

“I feel like the bottom’s falling out,” Atlas said, noting that Ashton had not been sent home with any additional schoolwork.

“There should be a plan in place if you send kids home. But there’s no organization, no real leadership and no real plan to catch these babies failing all over the place.”

The district said there would be no remote learning on the canceled school days.

Anxious. Helpless. Upset. Omicron surge leaves U.S. parents, teachers and students on edge

  Anxious. Helpless. Upset. Omicron surge leaves U.S. parents, teachers and students on edge Nationwide teachers, parents and students have had to deal with the Omicron surge.“We were going to be prepared,” she recalled.

“I’m on the edge of my seat just waiting with anxiety,” she said. “Are we going backwards? Are we going to be shut down completely?”

In Atlanta, six metro school districts began classes online after winter break because of high COVID-19 case counts. But by Monday, all but one reopened to offer in-person classes — even as they continued to battle high case rates and staff shortages.

“One of the most consequential takeaways over the past 22 months is that there is no doubt our young people need the positive influences and safe spaces our employees and school campuses provide more than ever,“ Mary Elizabeth Davis, superintendent of Henry County Schools south of Atlanta, wrote in a column for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Pandemic or no pandemic, our belief in the power of in-person learning will remain strong, and we will continue to do everything we can to provide that wholesome experience for the success of our youth….”

Still, many students across the Atlanta area remained out of school.

Even as Atlanta Public Schools resumed in-person classes, Maria Arias, 46, a mother with two children in high school and two in day care, kept her kids home because her family had contracted COVID-19 over the winter break.

A grass-roots member of the Latino Assn. for Parents of Public Schools, Arias couldn’t go back to work as a server at a small ice cream parlor until her youngest children tested negative and could return to day care. “It’s just hard,” Arias said as she struggled to keep her older kids on task with their schoolwork.

China is risking a big hit to the economy and supply chains with zero-Omicron approach

  China is risking a big hit to the economy and supply chains with zero-Omicron approach The Chinese government's unwavering insistence on stamping out any trace of the coronavirus is facing its biggest test yet as authorities grapple with Omicron's quickening spread. And it could cost the world's second largest economy dearly this year. © Kevin Frayer/Getty Images The rest of the world is also dealing with a rapid escalation of Omicron cases, but China is different because of how intent authorities are on preventing any widespread outbreak.

In recent months, the issue of schools opening or closing has become a battle between politicians and unions.

Last week, President Biden said “we have no reason to think at this point that Omicron is worse for children than previous variants.”

“We know that our kids can be safe when in school, by the way. That’s why I believe schools should remain open. They have what they need,” he added.

Meanwhile, New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who took office this month, stood firm on plans to reopen schools in the new year. But in recent days, as cases in the city rise sharply, Adams has considered a virtual learning plan, but it has not been implemented.

Back in Chicago, the school district reopened this week after a two-week standoff between Lightfoot and the Chicago Teachers Union.

The union wanted the option to revert to remote instruction across the 350,000-student district, and without it, hundreds of teachers refused to teach in person for the last two weeks.

Still, Chicago leaders, including Lightfoot, rejected districtwide remote learning, saying that it’s detrimental to students and that schools are safe.

After several days of back-and-forth negations, both sides reached an agreement that included provisions for additional testing and metrics allowing for schools with major virus outbreaks to close and go virtual.

Natalie Neris, chief of community engagement at Kids First Chicago, a group that advocates for more resources for students, said the interests of families must be at the forefront of debates.

“Parents are the consistent stakeholder,” she said. “Everyone would benefit from recognizing their importance, listening to them more intently, and putting kids first daily.”

For Pearson, 32, a hybrid option provides a sense of ease. Last week, she began feeling sick and got tested along with her kids. Each of their results came back negative, except for her son who is in seventh grade, who tested positive. He had no symptoms. She kept him home from school this week.

“It’s all over the place with this virus, and things are changing daily,” she said. “Schools need to adjust and be flexible as well.”

Lee reported from Los Angeles and Jarvie from Atlanta.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

Teachers Unions Need to Adapt, Just Like the Rest of Us .
When President Joe Biden in March 2021 gave his first primetime address, he astutely pointed to the one thing that has united almost all Americans during the Covid-19 pandemic: a shared sense of sacrifice. "We all lost something—a collective suffering, a collective sacrifice, a year filled with the loss of life and the loss of living for all of us," Biden told the nation. Parents of school-aged children, like myself, are among those who have incurred a terrible cost throughout the pandemic, and continue to do so.Many students had no in-person instruction for a year-and-a-half. “Remote learning” is widely accepted to have been an abject failure.

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