Sep 6, 2023 - Podcasts

Schools grapple with COVID safety as cases rise

It's been a rocky start to the school year when it comes to COVID. A late summer surge has already led to class cancellations in places like Kentucky and Texas. We dig deeper on how schools are dealing with this latest COVID wave.

  • Plus, women are closing the labor force gap with men.
  • And, the fallout continues from Spanish soccer's "MeToo" moment.

Guests: Axios' Adriel Bettelheim and Emily Peck; Power Plays' Lindsay Gibbs.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Alexandra Botti, Fonda Mwangi, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Robin Linn and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can send questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.


NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It's Wednesday, Sept. 6.

I'm Niala Boodhoo.

Today on the show: women are closing the labor force gap with men. Plus, the fallout continues from Spanish soccer's MeToo moment.

But first, schools grapple with Covid safety as cases rise. That's today's One Big Thing.

NIALA: It's been a rocky start to the school year when it comes to COVID. A late summer surge has already led to class cancellations in places like Kentucky and Texas. Axios' Adriel Bettelheim is here to help us dig deeper on how schools are dealing with COVID this year. Adriel, how is this back to school different than it's been over the past couple of years when it comes to COVID?

ADRIEL: Well, I mean, first of all, the waves of disease aren't resulting in nearly as many hospitalizations and deaths. And obviously we're at that point post pandemic where widespread closings or mask mandates are almost out of the question. But there are steps that some districts are taking to reinstate safety measures, particularly in areas where respiratory diseases, including but not exclusively COVID, are, are really getting out of hand.

NIALA: How are schools trying to deal with this right now then?

ADRIEL: Well, as you mentioned, districts in Kentucky and Texas have basically canceled classes and extracurricular activities. Philadelphia schools have imposed a safety plan that says, if you tested positive, you have to isolate for five days and then wear a mask for at least another five days when you come back. There were some school districts in Alabama that are bringing back masking as well. They're not calling them mandates. They're just saying they're recommendations. But it's kind of a very local response where the districts, the administrators are consulting with local health officials very much, like it was in, in sort of the darker days of the pandemic.

NIALA: In the past you and I talked about the point in the pandemic we would get to where COVID would be like the flu or other illnesses. Do we think this school year is reflective of that, finally?

ADRIEL: Well, I think it's, you know, we're just weeks in, I don't even think the public health experts agree on how schools should deal with this. Some think it's time to start treating COVID like any other respiratory illness in school, save greater caution for high risk-settings like nursing homes. I mean, you've got a district like Los Angeles that has some of the strictest measures during the pandemic, saying that students can come back now unless they have a fever. But then you have others saying, if your kid feels sick, they shouldn't go in person and whether that's the flu or COVID, it doesn't matter.

NIALA: The Biden administration is trying to address the decline in student performance that resulted from the previous years of the pandemic. Do we think this wave is also going to threaten the recovery of learning levels among the student population?

ADRIEL: I don't think it'll be nearly as disruptive because you're not going to have academic years missed or something like that. But I mean, politically, of course, the Biden administration and their Democratic allies are taking a lot of heat. Republicans say they kept schools closed for too long and disrupted kids' learning and welfare and disrupted families, et cetera, et cetera. So I think they're still extremely sensitive to that charge. So it's a very politically dicey time and I think they're trying to do everything possible to show that they're trying to let the test scores rebound and things slowly come back to pre-pandemic conditions.

NIALA: Adriel Bettelheim is the Senior Healthcare Editor at Axios. Thanks, Adriel.

ADRIEL: Thanks so much for having me.

NIALA: For decades, a far higher share of men worked than women in the U.S. But now, that gender gap is the narrowest it's ever been. That's according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics…and I asked Axios' Emily Peck to explain why.

EMILY PECK: Basically women are crushing it right now in the labor market. Their return to work from the lows of the pandemic has been faster than men's. And at the same time, the gender pay gap, that's the difference between what women and men make on average. is also the narrowest on record. So a big part of this is the rise of remote work and flexible work that's enabled a record number of women with young children to enter or stay in the workforce.

And that's a big deal because at the start of the pandemic, a lot of people predicted what they called a she session. People said women would leave the workforce in droves and have a really, really hard time coming back. But what's happened this year is nothing short of extraordinary and remarkable, and goes well against what those predictions were back then.

In fact, women have come roaring back to the labor market, and are a bigger part of it than they've ever been before. And that's good news for the economy, and it's good news for those women and their families too.long term, if you can stay attached to the labor force, you wind up... getting more promotions. Your career trajectory looks a lot brighter. You make more money. You might have heard a lot this summer on TikTok about "lazy girls," but the fact is women are working harder than ever.

NIALA: That's Axios Market's Correspondent Emily Peck

In a moment, why Spain's soccer scandal matters for the world.

Welcome back to Axios Today, I'm Niala Boodhoo.

Yesterday, the Spanish soccer federation fired the women's national team coach Jorge Vilda, just weeks after his team won the Women's World Cup title. It's part of a major-shake up in Spanish soccer after federation president Luis Rubiales kissed a player, Jenni Hermoso, without her consent. Former assistant coach Montse Tomé was appointed as Vilda's replacement, making her the first woman to hold the job.

Sports writer and Power Plays podcast host Lindsay Gibbs has been following this story. Hi Lindsay, Welcome to Axios Today!

LINDSAY GIBBS: Hi, thanks so much for having me.

NIALA: So for folks who may have not followed this closely, can you please just catch us up quickly here what's going on?

LINDSAY: So at the World Cup celebration, the president of the federation on the field right after they won the World Cup kissed Jenny Hermosa, one of the players, in front of a live television audience without her consent. Since then, the Spanish federation has really repeatedly stuck by Rubiales. They've called Hermoso a liar. They've also stuck by their head coach, Jorge Vilda, who players had problems with before the World Cup run. About 15 players had complained about the impact of their mental health and unprofessional conditions within the federation before the World Cup.

So this has been ongoing, these complaints. The federation, they just was a reverse course and fired Vilda. So it kind of came out of nowhere a little bit. It was about three straight weeks of backlashes for them to get rid of him.

NIALA: What have we seen in Spanish culture and society around this incident?

LINDSAY: I mean, people have been saying it's like the Me Too movement in Spain. It's really ignited an uproar within the culture there. People don't feel like it's reflective of what their culture is about, about gender equality, about respect for women.

Players around the world have been in full support of Jenny Hermoso, and you see it's really a reckoning cry. They're wearing wristbands and patches that say, "Contigo Jenny," meaning we're with you, Jenny. And it's really brought players together. They're really seeing this as a moment to address not just what's going on in Spain, but systemic abuse throughout soccer.

NIALA: Right, and we're even seeing Spanish politicians from all sides of the aisle condemning this. How do you think this fits into soccer culture in Spain?

LINDSAY: Unfortunately, I think it's part of soccer culture everywhere. Within women's soccer, there's just layers and layers of abuse within these federations, within these governing bodies. And women have just been exploited and treated so poorly for years.

I mean, if you look within Spain, they did nothing for women's football for decades. Their women's football team didn't make a World Cup until 2015, and you think about all the money they have in that federation, all of the support their men's team has gotten. This is endemic within the whole culture of Spanish soccer, unfortunately.

NIALA: And we have seen improvement in women's pay in professional soccer, for instance. Do we now see perhaps real positive change in the culture as a result of this incident?

LINDSAY: I think it's the beginning of the process. Change is not going to be one person getting fired, one person being ousted. I mean, these systems are rife for abuse, and until the systems themselves are changed, which is, takes so much work, I don't know what we're going to do. But it starts with more, even more pay equity, because the players need more pay at every single level, national level, club level. Because of pay inequity, the balance of power is so far on the side of the federations that it really puts the players at a disadvantage.

NIALA: That's Lindsay Gibbs of Power Plays, a no b.s. podcast and a newsletter about sexism in sports. Thanks, Lindsay.

LINDSAY: Thanks for having me.

NIALA: Finally: here in DC we're entering our fourth day of record-breaking heat – which today could include temperatures as high as 100 degrees - and heat indices as high as 105. Much of the mid Atlantic and Northeast is facing similarly brutal temperatures this week.

Axios' Andrew Freedman reports that early data tells us this was likely the world's hottest summer on record. Here in the U.S., cities that had their hottest-ever June-through-August periods include New Orleans, Phoenix, Miami, and Houston.

We'll include a link to Andrew's reporting in our show notes.

That's it for us today! I'm Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we'll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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