State leaders around the U.S. are increasingly pushing for schools to reopen this winter – pressuring them, even – as teachers begin to gain access to the vaccine against the raging pandemic.
Ohio's governor offered to give vaccinations to teachers at the start of February, provided their school districts agree to resume at least some in-person instruction by March 1. In Arizona, where teachers began receiving shots this week, the governor warned schools that he expects students back in the classroom despite objections from top education officials and the highest COVID-19 diagnosis rate in the nation over the past week.
“We will not be funding empty seats or allowing schools to remain in a perpetual state of closure,” Republican Gov. Doug Ducey said. “Children still need to learn, even in a pandemic.”
Leaders of Arizona's major hospitals disagreed, noting at a news conference Wednesday that the state is teetering on the brink of having to ration life-saving care.
“We understand that learning and bringing our children together is very important,” said Dr. Michael White of Valleywise Health. “But at this time with uncontrolled spread of the virus, we need to do things that we know will reduce the chance that the virus will spread and that is not gathering with people we don't live with.”
The U.S. recorded an all-time, one-day high of 4,327 deaths Tuesday, according to Johns Hopkins University. The nation's overall death toll has topped 380,000, closing in fast on the number of Americans killed in World War II. Confirmed infections have reached about 23 million.
President-elect Joe Biden initially pledged to reopen a majority of the nation's schools in his first 100 days but recently revised the goal to most of the country's K-8 schools. He has said teachers should be eligible for vaccinations as soon as possible after those who are at highest risk.
An estimated 10.3 million Americans have received their first shot of the vaccine, or about 3% of the U.S. population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That is an increase of about 1 million from the day before, indicating the vaccination drive is picking up speed.
But the U.S. is still well short of the hundreds of millions who experts say will need to be inoculated to vanquish the outbreak.
A report released Wednesday by the CDC adds to the evidence suggesting that children aren't the main drivers of community transmission. It found that increases in reported cases among adults were not preceded by increases among children and teens. Young adults, it appears, may contribute more to the spread than children do.
On Wednesday, Chiefs of Change, a bipartisan group of school administrators, called on state and federal officials to make teachers and other school employees immediately eligible for vaccinations and provide more resources to conduct testing and contact tracing in school districts.