US debates reopening of school, WHO warns “no return to normal”

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MIAMI – The resurgence of the coronavirus in the United States sparked a heated debate on Monday about whether to reopen schools, as global health officials warn the pandemic will escalate unless other countries adopt comprehensive plans to combat it. “If the basic principles are not respected, there is only one way to make this pandemic go away,” said the director of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “It’s going to get worse and worse. ”

The debate over the risks posed by the virus and how best to fight it was brought to light in Florida after breaking the record among the US states for the largest increase in a single day, with more than 15,000 new confirmed cases .

Miami officials and health experts, hard hit, pushed back the pressure, from both the Ron DeSantis government and President Donald Trump, to bring students back to classrooms next month.

“We simply cannot risk the health, well-being and safety of children, or any of our colleagues,” said Karla Hernandez-Mats, United Teachers of Dade president and teacher herself. “We will probably have to go into full stop mode. I can’t see schools reopening except with the 100% virtual model. ”

Parents have until Wednesday to inform the Miami-Dade School District of their decision whether to send their children to school this fall or have them study online from their home.

“Children can catch the virus in their bodies and become infected like anyone else,” said Florida International University epidemiologist Dr. Aileen Marty, who advised the Miami School District on his plans. reopening.

DeSantis argued that children have not proven to be vectors of the disease and that if retailers like Walmart can be reopened safely, schools should also be able to do so. But he made these arguments with a notable caveat, saying that each county should make its own decision on the reopening in consultation with local health officials.

WHO officials have warned that decisions to reopen schools should be made without political considerations, as part of a comprehensive strategy to combat COVID-19.

“We cannot turn schools into another political football in this game. This is not fair to our children, “said Dr. Michael Ryan, the organization’s emergency chief, on Monday.

The debate is hardly limited to Florida.

In Detroit, where summer classes for hundreds of students opened Monday, protesters blocked a school bus yard with tree branches.

“When I visited the schools this morning, I knew we were doing the right things for the kids,” said superintendent of schools Nikolai Vitti, in a message on Twitter.

“COVID is not going away. Many of our children need direct face-to-face engagement, ”he said.

But lawyer Shanta Driver said she plans to press charges to end the in-person investigation.

“I will not come back until this pandemic is overcome. There is no safe way to go back to school while this virus is spreading in an uncontrolled manner, ”said teacher Benjamin Royal.

Officials from California’s two largest school districts, Los Angeles and San Diego, announced on Monday that students will continue to learn online at home when school resumes next month, rather than returning to classrooms.

Districts cited research on safety experiences in schools around the world, as well as local and national health councils.

“One fact is clear: countries that have successfully reopened schools safely have done so with lower infection rates and on-demand testing. California doesn’t have one either, “the districts said in a joint statement. Los Angeles, the second largest school district in the United States, has approximately 730,000 students and San Diego has approximately 135,000 students.

Shortly after the districts were announced, the governor of California, Gavin Newsom, extended the closure of bars and restaurants within the state and ordered the closure of gymnasiums, churches and lounges. hairstyle in most places.

In New York City, Governor Andrew Cuomo said schools will be allowed to reopen in parts of the state where infection rates average 5% or less for two weeks. Students and teachers will be screened for the disease, must wear face masks and keep 6 feet away when possible.

“Common sense and intelligence can still determine what we do, even in this crazy environment,” said Cuomo. “We are not going to use our children as guinea pigs. ”

In North Carolina, which reported its highest number of cases and day hospitalizations, Governor Roy Cooper asked school districts to prepare three reopening plans that include in-person and distance learning options . His decision is expected later this week.

But teacher Becky Maxam, whose husband is considered to be at high risk for the virus due to genetic heart disease, said she has no plans to return if her college in Charlotte reopens.

“I won’t come back if we open. I can’t risk my family, ”said Maxam. “I think we should be virtual until we find a vaccine or the cases go down a lot more than they are.”

The debate over what to do about schools arose while a pair of WHO experts were in China on a mission to trace the origin of the pandemic. The virus was first detected in the city of Wuhan in central China late last year. Beijing was reluctant to allow an investigation, but gave in after dozens of countries called on WHO to conduct a full investigation.

China argued that the virus could have originated outside of China and angrily denied allegations that it had covered the scale of the epidemic as the infections began to spread.

Trump severely criticized the WHO for its response to the coronavirus pandemic and accused it of bowing to Chinese influence. The Trump administration officially notified the UN last week of its withdrawal from the WHO, although the withdrawal will not take effect until July 6, 2021.

Also on Monday, the United Nations warned that the pandemic could cause an additional 130 million people worldwide this year.

UN officials estimate that around 690 million people in 2019 were hungry around the world, the majority in Asia and Africa.

“Although it is too early to assess the full impact of the closings and other containment measures,” the agency said at least 83 million more people would be hungry due to the pandemic.

Tedros of the WHO said on Monday that the most recent case outbreak had occurred in the Americas. The United States and Brazil alone account for more than a third of all deaths worldwide from the disease.

In Japan, more than 30 Marines tested positive at the U.S. air station Futenma in Okinawa, where infections among U.S. service members have rapidly increased to more than 90 since last week. Okinawa is home to more than half of the approximately 50,000 American soldiers based in Japan.

In other parts of the world, the number of infections has increased dramatically in India, South Africa and Brazil, whose president who refuses the virus has turned out to be positive.

India, which has the most confirmed virus cases after the United States and Brazil, reported a record increase of 28,701 new cases reported in the past 24 hours on Monday. Authorities in several cities are restoring strict bans after trying to relax things to revive a struggling economy.

In South Africa, which accounts for more than 40% of all coronavirus cases reported in Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa has reimposed a ban on alcohol sales and a night curfew to reduce the number of people needing treatment so that hospitals have more beds to treat COVIDs. 19 patients.

“There is no way to avoid the coronavirus storm. But we can limit the damage it can do to our lives, ”said Ramaphosa in a letter to the nation on Monday.

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Geller reported from New York. Associated Press writers from around the world contributed to this report.

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