School Report Card: NYC schools will be in-person only come fall, Clemson says unvaccinated students need weekly COVID testing

·7-min read
New York City schools won't offer a remote learning option next year, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced this week. (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
New York City schools won't offer a remote learning option next year, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced this week. (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

Students are headed back to class amid the coronavirus pandemic, and to keep you posted on what’s unfolding throughout U.S. schools — K-12 as well as colleges — Yahoo Life is running a weekly wrap-up featuring news bites, interviews and updates on the ever-unfolding situation.

New York City schools won't offer a remote learning option next year

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced this week that city schools will not offer a distance-learning option for students in the fall. "You can’t have a full recovery without full-strength schools," de Blasio said Monday on MSNBC's Morning Joe.

De Blasio said the city will welcome parents into the schools starting in June to walk them through the changes that have been made to protect students and staff. "Anyone has a question or concern, come into your child's school," he said. "See what's going on and get the answers." Children will still be kept 3 feet apart to comply with social distancing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, de Blasio says. But, he added, "I actually fundamentally believe by August, the CDC will relax those rules further to recognize the progress that we've made in this country."

Experts applaud the move. "It's smart," infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Yahoo Life. "In-person schools should be going on right now."

Adalja says it's important for school districts to realize that "COVID-19 cases are not going to go to zero." Instead, he says, "we have to move on with our lives with the knowledge that the vaccine has been effective at removing the ability of the virus to cause serious disease."

But Dr. Daniel Ganjian, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Yahoo Life that he hopes children will have the option to tune into their classroom when they're sick. "That way, if kids don't feel well, they won't be so reluctant to stay home," he says. Overall, though, Ganjian agrees with the change, saying, "It's so much better when kids are in school."

New Clemson University policy requires COVID-19 testing for only the unvaccinated

Clemson University officials announced this week that they will implement new guidelines for vaccinated and unvaccinated students, including requirements that only unvaccinated students be tested for COVID-19. The policy, which goes into effect on June 1, says that students can opt out of weekly testing requirements if they share proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 with school administrators. Those who are not fully vaccinated will continue to need to undergo weekly testing.  

Clemson spokesperson Joe Galbraith tells Yahoo Life that the school came up with the new policy after working with public health experts and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. "As we have throughout the pandemic, Clemson continues to evaluate and update its health protocols while prioritizing the health and safety of students, faculty, staff and community, and any adjustments to policy and procedures will be made in conjunction with internal and external public health experts," he says. 

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Not everyone is thrilled with the new policy. Some concerned families formed a private Facebook group called STOP "Your Papers Please" @ Clemson. "This group is for those concerned about Clemson asking students to provide proof of vaccine and providing privileges to students who do and discriminate against students who do not provide their 'papers,'" the group's bio reads. "We are working together to stop these policies that discriminate and coerce students. This group is open to students, faculty, staff, parents, alum and anyone concerned about civil rights."

But Adalja says the new policy makes sense. "There's no reason to be testing vaccinated individuals unless they're symptomatic," he says. "As cases go down, asymptomatic testing has no utility." Ganjian agrees. "The unvaccinated are the most susceptible to both getting the disease and spreading it," he says. 

Galbraith is uncertain if the testing policy will continue in the fall. "Our COVID-19 mitigation measures will be adjusted as conditions improve, including over the summer and for the fall semester," he says. "We are currently seeing case rates in our region fall and the number of individuals with immunity rise. As we monitor those trends, in consultation with our public health experts, we hope to be able to move to less frequent testing and relax our requests for the use of face coverings."

Schools are giving away prizes — including scholarships — to try to increase vaccination rates

Schools across the U.S. are trying to encourage vaccination against COVID-19 for students, including offering giveaways and prizes.

On Wednesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the state's "Get a Shot to Make Your Future" campaign, which offers 12- to 17-year-olds who get vaccinated a chance to receive a full scholarship to a SUNY or CUNY college, beginning May 27. Winners will receive a full scholarship to any state public college or university — including tuition and room and board. 

The state will conduct a random drawing and pick 10 winners a week, over five weeks, with the cost covered by federal COVID-19 relief and outreach funds. "Vaccination rates across the state are beginning to slow, and our greatest need is with young New Yorkers who make up a large percent of positive cases and have the lowest vaccination percentage in the state," Cuomo said. "To better reach this population and defeat COVID once and for all, we need to get creative in our efforts."

In the Los Angeles Unified School District, superintendent Austin Beutner recently made an appearance with Woodrow Wilson Senior High School’s Mighty Mule mascot to promote the district's incentives. Those include offering paid leave for district employees to get their kids vaccinated. Schools where more than 30 percent of students are vaccinated receive $5,000 — and students get to decide how the money is spent.

Adalja says these incentives can be helpful for people who need the motivation to get vaccinated or are still deliberating about whether they want to get the vaccine. "These types of rewards may make people who are on the fence more likely to get vaccinated," he says. "It's sad that you have to do that, but unfortunately we have to entice people in some situations."

CDC: Georgia elementary schools that required teachers, staff to wear masks had significantly lower COVID-19 rates

A new study from the CDC found that schools in Georgia that required masks had lower rates of COVID-19 than those that didn't.

The study, which was conducted between Nov. 16, 2020, and Dec. 11, 2020, analyzed data from 169 elementary schools. The researchers found that there were 37 percent fewer COVID-19 cases reported in schools that required teachers and staff members to use masks and 39 percent lower in schools that improved ventilation. 

"Mask requirements for teachers and staff members and improved ventilation are important strategies in addition to vaccination of teachers and staff members that elementary schools could implement as part of a multicomponent approach to provide safer, in-person learning environments," the report concludes.

While experts agree that masks are an important tool to prevent the spread of COVID-19, they point out that the data doesn't necessarily apply to the current situation. "Even though this study is only a few months old, it's now an old study because it was done when teachers were not fully vaccinated," Ganjian says. "In order to see how it applies to the world today, we would need to do it with teachers who are vaccinated and compare the data to those who are unvaccinated."

The data shows that "masks can be useful in an unvaccinated population," Adalja says. But, he adds, "it's less applicable for fall because teachers are a highly vaccinated population."

Instead, he says, the study results "confirm what should have been happening earlier on," adding, "we had data and mitigation measures that we knew could work to have in-person learning, but we didn't do it."

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