US wants to get back to school despite Omicron, Chicago teachers’ resistance

Washington, Jan 5 (EFE).- The US government insisted Wednesday that in-person classes must resume in schools after the Christmas vacation despite the dramatic increase in Omicron coronavirus cases and the resistance of teachers in Chicago.

The coordinator of the White House pandemic response team, Jeff Zients, said at a press briefing that President Joe Biden “couldn’t be clearer” about his belief that US schools should remain open.

In that regard, Zients said that the federal government has allocated $130 billion within the stimulus plan so that schools can implement preventive measures against Covid-19 including ventilation and social distancing, along with $10 billion to help support Covid testing at schools.

“Last March, we put teachers and school staff at the front of the line to get vaccinated before most adults. Most teachers are vaccinated and now eligible for boosters. And all kids ages five and older are eligible for vaccinations,” Zients said.

“So, we have the tools. We know how to keep our kids safe in school. About 96 percent of schools are open. Parents want schools open. And experts are clear that in-person learning is best for kids’ physical and mental health and for their education,” he added.

The Covid response chief made his remarks in favor of in-person learning after classes were suspended on Wednesday in Chicago following the decision by the local teachers’ union to return to online instruction amid a spike in Covid cases.

On Tuesday, almost 70 percent of the members of the union voted to return to remote instruction rather than in-person classes.

The decision was taken with great regret and exclusively for the protection of the students and the community, the union said in a statement in which it also accused Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a Democrat, of not adopting safety measures to protect teachers and students.

The teachers said that it is their wish to return to the classrooms but the mayor and her leadership team in Chicago public schools have put the safety of students and educators at risk.

Despite the fact that the US is registering record numbers of Covid cases with more than a million new cases detected since Monday, largely of the highly transmissible Omicron variant, most of the nation’s school districts have resumed in-person classes after the Christmas and New Year’s holiday break.

According to figures compiled by The Washington Post, the majority of US schools returned to in-person classes on Monday or intend to do so this week, with the exceptions of Cleveland, Atlanta and Newark, New Jersey, among others.

The largest school district in the US, that of New York City, resumed in-person classes on Monday with a visit by newly-installed Mayor Eric Adams to an elementary school in The Bronx.

Infections have shot up nationwide with the spread of the Omicron strain, which now accounts for 95 percent of the new cases.

According to figures provided on Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average daily number of new cases over the past week has been 491,700, a 98 percent increase over the previous week.

Regarding hospital admissions, the average number of new admissions over the past seven days has been 14,000 per day, a 63 percent increase from a week earlier, while there have been an average of 1,200 Covid deaths per day, a 5 percent hike.

The top White House epidemiologist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said Wednesday at the pandemic response team’s press briefing that it is “inevitable” that more children will end up in the hospital due to the spread of the Omicron variant.

“We should not be complacent since the increased transmissibility of … Omicron might be overridden by the sheer volume of the number of cases that may be of reduced severity but could still stress our hospital system, because a certain proportion of a large volume of cases, no matter what, are going to be severe,” Fauci said.

He also said that possibly minors with other underlying illnesses or conditions would be those who end up in the hospital after becoming infected with Omicron.

Fauci also said that the best way to prevent children who have not been vaccinated because of their age is for people around them to be immunized.

When you are outside, he said, people should wear a facemask, especially in places where others are congregating.

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