The disruptions are causing many parents to scramble to find childcare, creating a sense of chaos at the start of 2022.
In the midst of the Omicron variant pushing coronavirus infections to record highs in the United States has delayed thousands of schools – including in some major cities – scheduled return to classrooms after the holidays or switched to distance education.
The sheer number of cases has frightened health officials with hospital systems in many states already tense. Maryland, Ohio, Delaware and Washington, DC, are all at or near record COVID-19 hospitalization rates.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading expert on infectious diseases, said the US had seen almost a “vertical increase” in new cases, now averaging 400,000 cases per day, with hospitalizations also increasing.
“We are definitely in the midst of a very serious upsurge and increase in cases,” he said Monday. “The acceleration of affairs we have seen is truly unprecedented and has gone far beyond anything we have seen before.”
The developments come because the Omicron variant appears to be much more contagious than previous iterations, but may be less virulent than Delta. And the latest school disruptions have made many parents struggle to find childcare – which has contributed to a greater sense of chaos in the first few days of 2022.
“There’s a lot of COVID out there … it’s going to be a bumpy start,” says Michelle Smith McDonald, director of communications and public affairs for the Alameda County Office of Education.
In New Jersey, which has seen some of the highest fall rates of any state in recent weeks, most urban districts have implemented virtual classes to start the new year, including Newark, which has nearly 38,000 students.
In the state of Wisconsin, Milwaukee’s public school system announced Sunday that it will switch more than 70,000 students to virtual learning on Tuesday due to an increase in COVID infections among staff members. in Ohio, Cleveland’s schools also became remote, while Detroit, Michigan canceled classes until Wednesday.
Some school systems use tests to try to prevent further delays. In Washington, DC, all staff and 51,000 public school students must post a negative test result on the district’s website before coming to class on Wednesday. Parents can pick up quick tests at their school or use their own.
Similar efforts are underway in California, which has promised to provide free home test kits to all of its six million K-12 public school students.
Schools in New York, the largest district in the country, reopened Monday as planned, but with more testing for its nearly one million students. Instead of quarantining an entire classroom if one person tests positive, all students in the class will be given quick home tests to use over the next seven days.
The full impact of the Omicron boom on the country’s school districts may not be clear until next week. Parents and administrators are already struggling to implement changing guidance and figuring out how many shots staff and older teen students should be considered fully vaccinated.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday approved the use of a third dose of the Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 12 to 15, shortening the time for all scratch shots by one month to five months after the primary doses.