Aug 20, 2020 - Health

Schools soldier through coronavirus outbreaks

Illustration of a notebook and computer juxtaposed with handwritten and typed abc's on the devices
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Only a few weeks into the school year, hundreds of students, teachers and staff across the country have been diagnosed with the coronavirus or sent home to quarantine after being exposed.

Why it matters: For now, most of the affected schools are opting to play coronavirus whack-a-mole, providing a complicated alternative to in-person and virtual learning.

The big picture: The bizarre new reality that we've all had to adjust to is no different than what is now playing out in classrooms across the country: We all have to monitor our contacts, and if we're unlucky enough that one of them gets sick with the coronavirus, we have to stay home for two weeks.

  • Although plenty of school districts — including most large ones — opted to begin the year online, those that began in-person learning generally aren't rushing to fall back into virtual school as soon as a case arrives on campus.

Yes, but: America has failed miserably at containing the coronavirus via testing, contact tracing and isolation. Families across the country are now relying on schools — which are not staffed by public health professionals, although often are working with public health departments — to do better than the country as a whole has so far.

Between the lines: There's no one-size-fits-all approach, as evidenced by a crowdsourced spreadsheet detailing school outbreaks across the country.

  • A popular strategy is to send classrooms home for two weeks after one student or teacher tests positive.
  • Mirroring the trend across the country, some states are seeing many more school cases than others. One Georgia county had seen 11 schools implement some level of quarantine by the first week of August, according to the Cherokee Tribune & Ledger-News.
  • Some sports teams are also quarantining after being exposed to the virus, including two in Idaho.
  • One Indiana school district had quarantined 228 students about a week after it reopened, the AP reported.

The decision of how to handle outbreaks isn't immune from politics. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis's administration has asked school district superintendents not to close a school without first calling state officials to discuss it, per the Washington Post.

  • “Before you get to that point of closing a classroom or closing a school, we want to have that communication with you because we want to be as surgical as possible,” Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said on a phone call reported on by the Post.

The other side: Some schools are shutting down temporarily or throwing in the towel indefinitely after seeing cases, the Wall Street Journal reports.

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