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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

School districts nationwide are facing a worsening teacher shortage because of the coronavirus, further complicating the tough decisions about whether to have in-person classes.

Why it matters: When teachers test positive, fall seriously ill or are self-isolating from potential exposure, many districts don't have enough substitutes to keep up.

Where it stands: There's early evidence children and schools are not major vectors of the virus, especially with proper social distancing, ventilation and mask requirements, but the risk for adults at school is not zero.

  • Districts in Tennessee, Michigan and Maine and many other parts of the country have dozens of teachers absent at a time and had to close classrooms.
  • Since the beginning of the 2020-21 school year, at least 751 Arizona teachers have resigned or quit, according to the Arizona Schools Personnel Administrators Association.
  • The risk of infection has also triggered some early retirements and sick-outs.

What they're saying: Teachers have demanded more personal protective equipment and better ventilation to help manage the risk.

  • But the absence of safety measures or unified guidance has put "teachers in a terrible, terrible position where the the only thing they can advocate for is having remote education," said Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers.
  • "At the end of the day you needed double the space and double the number of teachers in order to deal with this pandemic," Weingarten said.

By the numbers: 1.5 million teachers in the U.S. have health conditions that put them at higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19, per a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis.

The bottom line: "The consequences of doing the job poorly or doing it when it’s not feasibly safe are very very serious," said Noelle Ellerson Ng, associate executive director at the AASA, the School Superintendents Association.

Go deeper

Updated 10 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Politics: Fauci says he accepted Biden's offer to be chief medical adviser "on the spot" — The recovery needs rocket fuel.
  2. Health: CDC: It's time for "universal face mask use" — Death rates rising across the country — Study: Increased testing can reduce transmission.
  3. Economy: U.S. economy adds 245,000 jobs in November as recovery slows — America's hidden depression: K-shaped recovery threatens Biden administration.
  4. Cities: Bay Area counties to enact stay-at-home order ahead of state mandate
  5. Vaccine: What vaccine trials still need to do.
  6. World: UN warns "2021 is literally going to be catastrophic"
  7. 🎧 Podcast: Former FDA chief Rob Califf on the vaccine approval process.

DeVos extends federal student loan relief to Jan. 31

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

The Trump administration is extending federal student loan relief, which includes a pause on payments and interest accrual, through Jan. 31, the Department of Education announced Friday.

Why it matters: Payments have been paused since March due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the relief was set to expire on Dec. 31 . The relief measures, which also include the suspension of collections of defaulted federal student loans, have helped mitigate some of the pandemic's negative consequences for millions of borrowers.

11 hours ago - Health

Bay Area counties to enact stay-at-home order ahead of state mandate

Golden Gate Park. Photo: Justin Sullivan via Getty

Counties around the San Francisco Bay Area will adopt California’s new regional stay-at-home order amid surges in cases and ICU hospitalizations, health officials said Friday.

The big picture: California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a three-week stay-at-home order on Thursday that would go into effect in regions with less than 15% ICU capacity. Despite the Bay Area’s current 25.3% ICU capacity, health officials from Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Santa Clara, San Francisco and the city of Berkeley are moving ahead with a shelter-in-place mandate in the hopes of reducing risk.