U.S. School District Cancels Classes After Teacher ‘Sick Out’ Over Virus Fears



A school district outside Phoenix has canceled its plans to reopen schools next week after teachers staged a “sick out” in protest.

“We have received a high volume of staff absences for Monday citing health and safety concerns,” Gregory A. Wyman, the superintendent of the J.O. Combs Unified School District, said in a letter to families posted online Friday.

The “overwhelming response” from staff has hamstrung plans to begin the semester, and the district “cannot yet confirm when in-person instruction may resume,” Mr. Wyman said. Virtual classes were also canceled for the time being, though breakfasts and lunches will be available for pickup.

The J.O. Combs school district, which includes seven schools, according to its website, had moved forward with a plan to reopen despite falling short of benchmarks that the Arizona Department of Health Services had said must be met before in-person instruction resumed.

With the United States facing an alarming drop in coronavirus testing that threatens to undermine national monitoring efforts, the Food and Drug Administration granted emergency authorization for a new saliva-based test to detect the virus.

Health officials in South Korea reported 279 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, warning of a resurgence of infections, many linked to a church that has vocally opposed President Moon Jae-in.

South Korea had battled the epidemic down to two-digit daily caseloads since April. But the number of new cases has soared in recent days, with 103 on Friday and 166 on Saturday, most of them worshipers at the Sarang Jeil Church in Seoul, the capital, and another church in the surrounding province of Gyeonggi.

President Moon on Sunday warned of a surge in infections in coming days as health officials rush to test thousands of ​church ​members and their contacts. He called the crisis at Sarang Jeil the biggest challenge faced by health officials since a similar outbreak five months ago at the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in the central city of Daegu, about 150 miles southeast of Seoul.

Members of Sarang Jeil were reportedly among thousands who attended an antigovernment rally in Seoul on Saturday. On the same day, Kwon Jun-wook, deputy director of the government’s Central Disease Control Headquarters, warned of “early signs of a large-scale resurgence of the virus.”

Over the weekend the government tightened social-distancing rules in Seoul and Gyeonggi Province, limiting indoor gatherings to below 50 and outdoor gatherings to below 100. The new rules also bar spectators from professional baseball and soccer games and empower the authorities to shut down high-risk facilities like bars, karaoke rooms and buffet restaurants if they fail to take stricter preventive measures.

Virus fears also prompted South Korea and the U.S. on Sunday to delay an annual joint military drill by two days, rescheduling it to begin on Tuesday. The allies decided to postpone the exercise after a South Korean Army officer who was expected to participate in the drill tested positive.

President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa said Saturday that there were “signs of hope” that the virus had retreated from its peak levels in the country, and announced the easing of some of the strictest lockdown restrictions in the world.

In a televised address, Mr. Ramaphosa said that the number of new confirmed cases had dropped over the past week to some 5,000 daily cases from a high of about 12,000 a day.

“All indications are that South Africa has reached the peak and moved beyond the inflection point of the curve,” he said, adding that infections had most likely peaked in the three most populous provinces, including in Gauteng, home of the economic capital, Johannesburg.

The country will now move to a so-called Level 2 alert at midnight on Monday, meaning bans on the sale of tobacco and alcohol will be scrapped, travel between provinces will be allowed, and bars, restaurants and taverns will return to normal business, subject to strict hygiene regulations, Mr. Ramaphosa said. Gatherings of up to 50 people will also be allowed.

But the president cautioned that complacency about basic hygiene and wearing masks “could lead to a resurgence in infections at a rate and on a scale far greater than what we have seen so far.”

Businesses and schools initially shuttered for five weeks after a wide-ranging lockdown was announced in March. But cases surged after restrictions eased, pushing South Africa to the fifth-highest caseload in the world. On Saturday, the ministry of health said 583,653 people had tested positive to date, and 11,667 had died.

In other developments around the world:

  • The Australian state of Victoria has extended its state of emergency by four weeks, until Sept. 13. The state of emergency, which gives health officials broad powers to quarantine people, restrict movement and declare lockdowns, has been in effect since March. The state is also under a more wide-ranging state of disaster until at least the end of the month. Victoria, which is the center of the outbreak in Australia, on Sunday reported 279 new cases and 16 deaths.

  • New Zealand on Sunday reported 13 new cases, all but one of them locally transmitted, amid a new outbreak in Auckland, its most populous city.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of the House Democratic leadership are considering cutting the chamber’s summer recess short in order to deal with the crisis unfolding in the United States Postal Service, two people familiar with the talks said on Saturday. While the House is not scheduled to return for votes until Sept. 14, Democratic leaders could call lawmakers back in the next two weeks.

Accounts of slowdowns and curtailed service have emerged across the country since Louis DeJoy, a Republican megadonor and an ally of President Trump’s, took over as postmaster general in May. Mr. DeJoy has been pushing cost-cutting measures like reduced hours and the elimination of overtime pay that he says are intended to overhaul an agency sustaining billion-dollar losses.

Mr. Trump has tried to pin Postal Service funding troubles on Democrats, and he rails almost daily against voting by mail. Voting-rights advocates and postal workers have warned that the growing crisis could disenfranchise millions of Americans who plan to cast their ballots by mail in November because of the virus outbreak.

“I would prefer us providing additional funds for states that don’t have as effective voting systems,” he said.

Mr. Romney dismissed out of hand warnings by Mr. Trump and his allies that an increase in mail-in voting would lead to rampant voter fraud.

He argued that it would be easier to investigate potentially fraudulent mailed ballots than to detect foreign efforts to attack or manipulate in-person electronic voting systems — a threat to democracy he described as comparable to the president’s attacks on mail-in voting.

“We should make every effort to assure that people who want to vote get the chance to vote, and that’s more important even than the outcome of the vote,” Mr. Romney said. “We have got to preserve the principle of democracy, or the trend we’re on is going to continue to get worse.”

But as the country’s caseload soared, vaccine researchers saw a unique opportunity.

With sustained widespread contagion, a deep bench of immunization experts, a robust medical manufacturing infrastructure and thousands of vaccine trial volunteers, Brazil has emerged as a potentially vital player in the global scramble to end the pandemic.

Three of the most promising and advanced vaccine studies in the world are relying on scientists and volunteers in Brazil, according to the World Health Organization’s report on the progress of vaccine research.

The embattled government hopes its citizens could be among the first in the world to be inoculated. And medical experts are imagining the possibility that Brazil could even manufacture the vaccine and export it to neighboring countries, a prospect that fills them with something that has been in short supply this year: pride.

Brazil will be the only country other than the United States to be playing a major role in three of the leading studies as an unparalleled quest for a vaccine has led to unusually fast regulatory approvals and hastily brokered partnerships.

Brazil’s explosive caseload has made it the second hardest-hit nation in the world after the United States. While other countries in the region have higher per capita rates, experts have assailed President Jair Bolsonaro’s cavalier handling of the crisis.

The president, who caught the virus in July, has called it a “measly flu” and sabotaged calls for quarantines and lockdowns.

Recruiting volunteers for the ongoing studies in Brazil has not been a challenge, said Soraya Smaili, the president at the Federal University of São Paulo, which is involved in one of the studies.

“People have stepped forward and everyone wants to be part of the solution,” she said. “This has been a lovely social movement.”

Brazil has a universal public health care system with one of the best immunization programs in the developing world, which has enabled it to contain outbreaks of yellow fever, measles and other pathogens.

A coronavirus breakthrough could galvanize the country’s vaccine sector. It could also invigorate its scientific institutions, which employ world-class scientists but have been reeling after years of budget cuts that have weakened the public health care system and dented the country’s reputation as a research powerhouse.

Yet Congress has shown few signs that it will soon pass another stimulus package or that such a deal would include any of the $32 billion in new assistance that transit experts say is needed.

“It seems like we’re invisible, and they don’t care about us,” said Nina Red, a New Orleans resident who said her bus trip to the grocery store now sometimes took almost three hours instead of the usual one.

Ridership on top city systems has declined 70 to 90 percent during the pandemic, and sales tax revenue, which fuels many transit agency budgets, has cratered because of a collapsing economy.

As a result, cities like San Francisco have cut half their bus lines. In New Orleans, where 14 percent of transit workers have tested positive for the virus, fare revenue has dropped 45 percent.

And as service cuts have begun, experts say the brunt of the problem is being borne by the nation’s low-income residents, people of color and essential workers. Two economic studies have found Black people could be dying at nearly double the rate of white people from the coronavirus, in part because of their heavier reliance on public transportation.

Experts say the greater ability of higher-income workers to work remotely or to use cars highlights another systemic inequity that has become glaringly obvious during the pandemic.

“People with enough money can choose to opt out for a while,” said Beth Osborne, the director of Transportation for America, an advocacy group. “That’s quite a luxury.”

Leonardo Massa, the managing director of MSC Italy, said in a phone interview that the company had spent the past five months working on a health-and-safety protocol that respected international standards.

The Grandiosa normally carries around 6,000 passengers but will be working at half capacity during the initial cruises.

Both crew members and passengers will be tested for the coronavirus before embarking the ship. Passengers who wish to go ashore will be limited to excursions coordinated by MSC. Some crew members have been tasked with ensuring that social distancing is maintained, and the onboard medical team has been expanded to three doctors and six nurses.

“We have made the maximum effort possible” to guarantee safety, Mr. Massa said. A section of the ship has been set aside for any passengers who become infected.

On Aug. 29, a second MSC ship, the Magnifica, will begin offering week-long cruises of the eastern Mediterranean, departing from the Italian city of Bari for the Greek Islands.

For now, the cruises are limited to residents of the 26 countries in Europe’s passport-free Schengen region.

Ms. Burkovska estimated that last year, before the travel bans, about 3,000 Ukrainian women traveled abroad for surrogacy births, mostly in secret.

A majority of parents surveyed this year ranked financial literacy at the top of their list of noncore courses they wanted taught in school, according to a report to be released next week by the Charles Schwab Foundation. The report surveyed 5,000 people in February before the pandemic took hold and 2,000 more in June.

“This pandemic has exposed so many Americans’ financial vulnerabilities,” said Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, chair and president of the Charles Schwab Foundation. “People are putting a high priority on educating this next generation, so they don’t experience what they’re experiencing today.”

Interest in the program has surged. In the six months of the pandemic, more than 2,900 girls have completed the program, increasing the number it has reached since starting two years ago. In total, 3,175 girls have participated in the program, which can reach even remote areas. Because the program has always used Zoom, it had already worked out the kinks in online learning before the coronavirus.

When Southern California’s soaring coronavirus caseload forced Chapman University this month to abandon plans to reopen its campus and instead shift to an autumn of all-remote instruction, the school promised that students would still get a “robust Chapman experience.”

“What about a robust refund?” Christopher Moore, a spring graduate, retorted on Facebook.

A parent chimed in: “We are paying a lot of money for tuition, and our students are not getting what we paid for,” wrote Shannon Carducci, whose youngest child, Ally, is a sophomore at Chapman, where the cost of attendance averages $65,000 a year.

As it has with so many other aspects of life, the pandemic has upended nearly every element of lifeguarding. Ocean rescues are contactless and require guards to shower and sanitize equipment afterward. Mouth-to-mouth resuscitation is done through a face mask equipped with a manual pump.

Many lifeguards now carry hand sanitizer plus disposable masks and gloves, to give out and to protect themselves from the groups of people, often maskless, who are packing the shore.

So far, outbreaks among lifeguards have seemed to resulted largely from group housing and post-work gatherings, which for many young workers are selling points of this quintessential seasonal job.

Last month, roughly two dozen lifeguards in Avalon, N.J., tested positive for the virus. That led to the quarantining of about 45 guards, depleting the ranks and forcing other guards to work shifts with no breaks. In New York, 13 lifeguards from two Suffolk County beaches tested positive in July after attending a barbecue. There have been numerous smaller outbreaks, including in Cape Cod, Delaware and Newport Beach, Calif.

Janet Fash, a lifeguard chief at New York City’s Rockaway Beach, said her guards had been making more rescues than usual, in part because there are so many beachgoers.

The challenge is to maintain distance from struggling swimmers — an odd notion to most lifeguards, who are largely trained to never lose contact with them.

Generally, lifeguards pass swimmers a rescue buoy and then clasp them across the chest. Now, to avoid making contact, many guards approach people from behind, pass them the buoy and tow them in using the buoy line.

The sudden loss has thrust some young adults into the unexpected role of surrogate parent, fighting to keep what is left of their families together.

“Your physical home is gone, your emotional home is gone. Then you’re going to be put with someone you’ve never known in your life,” said Karen J. Freedman, the founder and executive director of Lawyers for Children, which represents children in foster care, including some whose parents died in the pandemic. “That is a terrifying process for any child.”

If your children will not be returning to classrooms this fall, you may have considered joining with another family to create a learning pod, or even hiring a tutor to assist in your children’s studies. There are some other options.

Reporting was contributed by Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Luke Broadwater, Choe Sang-Hun, Emily Cochrane, Marie Fazio, Shawn Hubler, Corey Kilgannon, Gina Kolata, Zach Montague, Sarah Mervosh, Aimee Ortiz, Elisabetta Povoledo, Nikita Stewart, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Paul Sullivan, Maria Varenikova, Pranshu Verma and Will Wright.



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