Covid-19 Updates: With Learning Upended, Parents Pull Children From U.S. Public Schools

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Credit…Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

Two and a half months into the school year, Massachusetts compiled its data and found sobering results: Enrollment in public schools was down 37,000, or almost 4 percent, from last year, a startling drop for a system that has mostly held steady.

Though no nationwide data is available, similar snapshots are emerging all over the country. Enrollment in New York City public schools is down 31,000 students, or 3.2 percent, according to preliminary data obtained by Chalkbeat.

Officials in Montana reported a drop of 2 percent. Wisconsin and Missouri have reported declines of 3 percent. North Carolina has reported a drop of 4 percent.

The reason is no mystery. With public schools mostly shifting to remote or hybrid learning, parents are pulling their children out entirely, opting to keep them at home or looking for options that offer more in-person instruction.

“In some cases, the charter schools are taking them, in some cases privates and parochials,” said Glenn Koocher, who heads the Massachusetts Association of School Committees. “The bigger tragedy is that some kids aren’t getting anything, because they’ve fallen off the map.”

Mr. Koocher said he believes a third of the students that left public schools this year are in that category. “The districts have lost touch with them,” he said. “They’re staying home, probably doing nothing, and we’re out of touch with them.”

A reverse phenomenon has taken place at private schools, many of which began the school year with in-person learning. In New England, 36 percent of independent schools reported a rise in enrollment in September compared with last year, according to the National Association of Independent Schools.

The National Association of Independent Schools said in August that 58 percent of its schools had reported an increase in interest from the previous summer.

In some areas, like the tristate region outside New York City, private schools have had a surge of affluent parents intent on getting their children into in-person classes for the fall. That option wasn’t possible at many public schools and in big cities hit hard in the pandemic.

“Applications are up, and enrollment is up,” Carole J. Everett, executive director of the New Jersey Association of Independent Schools, told The Times last month. “This is largely due to people fleeing the city and public school parents disappointed that their schools haven’t opened in person. It really picked up over the summer and has continued into the fall.”

Some unenrolled students may return to the public school system next year, when in-person teaching resumes, Mr. Kooker said. But if they don’t, school budgets are likely to suffer, because state aid to schools is distributed on a per-pupil basis. That matters more in poorer neighborhoods, since wealthy school districts augment state funding using local property taxes.

“You still have to have the teachers,” he said. “You don’t lose money in school expenses, but you lose state aid.”

The number of coronavirus infections in the United States shot past 13 million on Friday, worsening the world’s largest outbreak. The milestone came as Americans embarked on a Black Friday that looked different from holidays past.

The U.S. has had one of the world’s highest per capita caseloads in the past week. And every day for more than two weeks, the country has set records for the number of people in the hospital, with the latest figure surging past 90,000 for the first time on Thursday.

At the same time, the nation saw a steep drop-off in new cases on Thursday, but it was a mirage, not progress, because many states did not report data on the Thanksgiving holiday. More than 103,000 cases and more than 1,100 deaths were recorded on Thursday — compared with 187,000 cases and 1,962 deaths that had been recorded the prior Thursday, Nov. 19.

For that very reason, the numbers were artificially high on Friday, when many states reported two days’ worth of data. That pushed the country past 200,000 cases in a single day for the first time, with more than 203,000 reported as of late Friday night, along with more than 1,400 deaths.

And the blurry data could persist longer. Health officials in Vermont have said they would forego reporting on both Thursday and Friday. Additionally, access to testing was likely to decrease for a few days, meaning more infections could go uncounted. In Louisiana, testing sites run by the National Guard were slated to be closed both Thursday and Friday. In Wisconsin, some National Guard testing sites are closed all week.

“I just hope that people don’t misinterpret the numbers and think that there wasn’t a major surge as a result of Thanksgiving, and then end up making Christmas and Hanukkah and other travel plans,” Dr. Leana Wen, a professor at George Washington University and an emergency physician, told The Associated Press.

Public health experts repeatedly warned Americans to stay home on Thanksgiving, and many heeded the advice. But while overall travel within the country was down significantly from prior years, the Transportation Security Administration reported that more than half a million people flew on Thursday alone, in addition to the approximately four million who had already traveled since Sunday. AAA had projected a downturn in road travel, and still expected tens of millions of people to drive to celebrations.

Similarly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list of higher-risk activities for spreading Covid-19 included “going shopping in crowded stores just before, on, or after Thanksgiving,” an attempt to persuade people to sit tight — or make purchases online — on Black Friday.

The latest virus surge began accelerating across much of the country in mid-October. The nation went from eight million cases to nine million in just over two weeks in October; from nine to 10 million in 10 days; from 10 million to 11 million in just under seven days; and from 11 million to 12 million in just five days, hitting that milestone on Nov. 20. The pace to the 13 millionth case slowed, coming after seven days.

Credit…Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

The blows came in quick succession when the Kansas City Fire Department lost two longtime firefighters to Covid-19 last weekend, one of them a captain, as the coronavirus continued to rage across much of the Midwest.

More than 200 members of the department have tested positive since the pandemic began, and at least 70 of those have active infections now, according to Fire Chief Donna Lake. The two over the weekend were the second and third to die of the disease; the first was an emergency medic in the spring.

“It affects morale in a big way,” Chief Lake said of the losses.

The International Association of Fire Fighters, which represents more than 320,000 professional firefighters across the United States, said that more than 3,400 members have had the virus nationwide, and 22 have died. There have been many more cases among the nation’s roughly 750,000 volunteer firefighters.

“When we think of firefighters, the first thing we think of is fire trucks,” said Doug Stern, a spokesman for the union. “But in the overwhelming majority of America, firefighters are also paramedics. They’re also E.M.T.s. They’re the first link in the public health chain. They really are health workers, much like doctors and nurses.”

Firefighters are often working in “uncontrolled environments,” he said, dealing with emergencies in houses, buildings or vehicles where surfaces may not have been disinfected, and encountering people who may not be wearing masks or taking other protective measures.

To mitigate those risks, the Kansas City Fire Department has changed its protocols, and now initially sends in a single person in full protective gear to assess some emergency situations, instead of a whole group going in right away.

But the department has also had to send exposed workers back to the front lines, Chief Lake said, because lengthy quarantines were leaving the department critically short of personnel.

The two who died over last weekend were Capt. Robert Rocha, 60, a 29-year veteran of the department, and Scott Davidson, 45, a communications specialist and paramedic. Both were remembered as vital figures in the community.

Captain Rocha “was a very gregarious, larger-than-life kind of guy” who mentored younger firefighters, Chief Lake said. She recalled Mr. Davidson as a family man who brought a valuable frontline perspective from his paramedic service to his more recent job in communications.

The department deems death from Covid-19 to be in the line of duty, and firefighters across the country are known for turning out to ceremonially honor fallen colleagues. But the pandemic necessarily constrained the send-offs in Kansas City, with attendance limits at services and social distance between members of the department who stood at curbside to salute a procession for Mr. Davidson.

A drive-through visitation for Captain Rocha will be held on Sunday, and his funeral service will be closed to the public in person but streamed online.

Credit…Brendan Mcdermid/Reuters

Amazon has embarked on an extraordinary hiring binge this year, vacuuming up an average of 1,400 new workers a day and solidifying its power as online shopping becomes more entrenched during the coronavirus pandemic.

The spree has accelerated since the onset of the pandemic, which has turbocharged Amazon’s business and made it a winner of the crisis. Starting in July, the company brought on about 350,000 employees, or 2,800 a day. Most have been warehouse workers, but Amazon has also hired software engineers and hardware specialists to power enterprises such as cloud computing, streaming entertainment and devices, which have boomed in the pandemic.

The scale of hiring is even larger than it may seem because the numbers do not account for employee churn, nor do they include the 100,000 temporary workers who have been recruited for the holiday shopping season. They also do not include what internal documents show as roughly 500,000 delivery drivers, who are contractors and not direct Amazon employees.

The new hires have increased Amazon’s global work force to more than 1.2 million employees.

Amazon’s rapid employee growth is unrivaled in the history of corporate America. It far outstrips the 230,000 employees that Walmart, the largest private employer with more than 2.2 million workers, added in a single year two decades ago. The closest comparisons are the hiring that entire industries carried out in wartime, such as shipbuilding during the early years of World War II or home building after service members returned, economists and corporate historians said.

The company has also almost tripled the number of U.S. warehouses used for last-mile deliveries this year, said Marc Wulfraat, founder of the logistics consulting firm MWPVL International, who tracks Amazon’s operations. The delivery drivers are usually contractors, so Amazon does not disclose their numbers in regulatory filings.

“They have built their own UPS in the last several years,” Mr. Wulfraat said. “This pace of change has never been seen before.”

Nearly a year into a pandemic that has ravaged the global economy like no time since the Great Depression, the only clear pathway toward improved fortunes is containing the virus itself.

With the United States suffering its most rampant transmission yet, and with major nations in Europe again under lockdown, prospects remain grim for a meaningful worldwide recovery before the middle of next year, and far longer in some economies.

What has been challenged is the popular notion that the world economy could simply endure a deep freeze to contain the pandemic and then revive. The idea was that public largess could support workers and keep businesses alive during the short, sharp downturn required to choke off the virus, before commercial life recovered.

This sort of thinking was the basis for forecasts of a so-called V-shaped recovery: The astonishing collapse of major economies in the first half of the year was supposed to be followed by an equally astonishing revival.

But the global economy does not come with an on-off switch. After marked improvement in the late summer, the surge of virus cases has destroyed the hopeful scenario. The strains of the catastrophe — from failed businesses and elevated joblessness to disrupted education — appear likely to endure, potentially for years.

A significant hope has emerged this month in the form of three vaccine candidates. But significant hurdles remain before vaccines restore any semblance of normalcy. More tests must be conducted, and vast supplies manufactured. The world must navigate the complexities of distributing a life-saving medicine amid a surge of nationalism.

The very concept of normalcy now seems open to question. Even after the coronavirus is tamed into something manageable like the flu, will people habituated to keeping their distance from others return to restaurants, shopping malls and entertainment venues in the same numbers? With videoconferencing established as a replacement for business travel, will companies shell out as much as before to put them on airplanes and in hotels?

The pandemic has also added to the inequality that has been a central feature of recent decades. It has concentrated its lethal force on blue-collar workers, striking people who labor in warehouses, slaughterhouses and frontline medical facilities. Professionals able to work from home have maintained their safety along with their incomes.

Some argue that the pandemic should be the impetus for new economic models that create jobs through a transition to green energy while spreading the gains more equitably.

“What I’m allergic to at the moment is the notion of going back, bouncing back,” said Mr. Goldin, the Oxford economist. “It’s business as usual that got us to where we are.”

Credit…Mike Hutchings/Reuters

Coronavirus cases are surging in South Africa’s impoverished Eastern Cape and in the neighboring Western Cape, a province whose fabled wine routes and beaches usually draw millions of local and international visitors around this time of year.

Premier Alan Winde issued a “hot spot alert” on Thursday for the metropolitan area that includes Cape Town, the Western Cape’s capital. Cases in the province increased by 52 percent over the last week, reaching 126,362 on Wednesday, according to government figures.

Wastewater treatment testing showed that cases were rising in all districts, Mr. Winde said in a news conference. Some areas now have more active cases than during previous spikes in May and June, he added. Along with some of South Africa’s wealthiest neighborhoods, the province is also home to some of its largest and poorest townships.

Also on Thursday, Zweli Mkhize, the health minister, said that about half of South Africa’s new daily cases were coming from the Eastern Cape, a largely rural province that has been the hardest-hit region in the country.

Officials throughout South Africa have warned that the coming holiday season, when many citizens travel to their villages or to holiday homes, could lead to more cases — with devastating economic consequences.

“We also cannot afford a lockdown again, as is being witnessed in many European countries right now,” Mr. Winde said. “Our economy simply cannot afford it.”

Sub-Saharan Africa’s most developed economy has recorded more than 781,900 cases and more than 21,370 deaths, according to a New York Times database. New daily cases had dropped from around 12,000 new daily cases in June to less than 2,000 per day, but a slow uptick in recent weeks has pushed numbers to around 3,000 a day.

Still, on Nov. 15 South Africa lifted all international travel restrictions ahead of what would normally be its peak tourist season, when as many as 10 million foreigners head to the country’s pristine beaches and game safaris.

Credit…Abubaker Lubowa/Reuters

Several high-profile opposition leaders in East Africa have been jailed, exiled or silenced as they challenge entrenched leaders and political parties. Heads of state have used the coronavirus as a pretext to strengthen their grip on power, analysts say.

There has been less international outcry than usual, with many countries that traditionally serve as watchdogs preoccupied with the pandemic and domestic concerns.

And the United States, under the isolationist leadership of President Trump, has been far less engaged in defending human rights globally. The country has also lost credibility to intervene internationally as the world saw American police forces caught on video violating human rights at home.

The repercussions have been felt in elections in several East African nations.

In Uganda, which votes in January, the most prominent opposition candidate, Bobi Wine, whose real name is Robert Ssentamu Kyagulanyi, has faced intense intimidation in his bid to unseat President Yoweri Museveni, who has ruled the country with an iron grip since 1986.

In Tanzania, Tundu Lissu, a lawyer and former lawmaker, received death threats as he campaigned for president, and was hounded out of the country after an October election that some international observers said was undermined by fraud.

And in Ethiopia, the media mogul and opposition figure Jawar Mohammed has been lingering in prison for almost five months on charges of terrorism.

“Opposition movements are facing some of the most dire challenges to their existence since this era of democratization first took hold in the region in the early 1990s,” said Zachariah Mampilly, co-author of the book “Africa Uprising: Popular Protest and Political Change.”

In Uganda, the authorities have accused Mr. Wine of holding political gatherings that flout coronavirus guidelines, which stipulate that campaign rallies be limited to 200 people. But security forces, he said, have not clamped down on rallies supporting Mr. Museveni and the ruling National Resistance Movement, despite drawing campaign crowds exceeding the 200-person limit.

“There’s an absolute double-standard in operating procedures when it comes to enforcing the rules,” Mr. Wine said. “It’s like the coronavirus is only affecting the opposition.”

Credit…Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

For much of the year, every time Hong Kong beat back a surge of coronavirus cases, new problems would pop up weeks later.

Similar patterns hold true in other parts of Asia that are still fighting day-by-day battles to keep their Covid-19 rates from spiraling out of control. And the latest waves of infection are proving harder to trace than earlier ones were — just as winter forces more people indoors and raises the risks of transmission.

Japan and South Korea are experiencing some of their highest single-day tallies since the pandemic began, driven largely by diffuse clusters in the Tokyo and Seoul metropolitan areas. Tokyo alone reported a record 570 new infections on Friday, and greater Seoul reported more than 300 on Saturday.

Hong Kong is reporting about 65 new cases a day, fewer than the 100-plus cases that it reported on some days over the summer. But the Chinese territory is facing a surge that is driven in large part by what experts call untraceable “silent” transmissions.

“We’re getting better at having a large testing capacity, and we have a lot of resources for contact tracing, but the cycle repeats,” said Kwok Kin-on, an epidemiologist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Compared with the United States and Europe, much of East Asia still has the virus relatively in check. Hong Kong, with a population of around 7.5 million, had a total of 6,039 cases and 108 deaths as of Saturday, a low rate for any city.

But the region’s recent setbacks underscore the challenges that the world will continue to face until there is a widely available vaccine. As cases have soared back to alarming levels in recent weeks, South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong have had to quickly recalibrate their strategies.

Travel bubbles that were announced with great fanfare are now on hold. Weeks after reopening, schools have been shut again. Bars and restaurants are closing early or shifting to takeaway menus.

“We need solidarity in this kind of situation, but as everyone knows, it’s not easy,” said Dr. Kim Woo-joo, an infectious disease specialist at Korea University in Seoul.

Credit…Elaine Cromie for The New York Times

This is the season of peak anxiety for high school seniors planning to go to college, and on top of all the application forms and deadlines and personal essays they usually have to juggle, add a host of new obstacles in this pandemic year.

The coronavirus has put American families in financial crisis, forced millions of students to learn remotely, canceled college tours and standardized testing dates, and prevented legions of students from participating in the sports and other extracurricular activities that serve as creative outlets and résumé boosters.

“It’s all a balance, and I’m not really balanced right now,” said Lea Caldwell, 17, a Detroit student who is working part time as she wrestles with her senior year course load and her college applications.

Seniors and those who guide them through the process say the level of uncertainty and disruption is off the charts as the virus surges across the country, forcing many schools to shut down classrooms again and making weighty decisions about the future more fraught than ever.

“We’ve had to hold hands a lot more,” said Holly M. Markiecki-Bennetts, a guidance counselor at Ms. Caldwell’s school, Mercy High, in Farmington Hills, Mich.

It is unclear if all the tumult will make it easier or more challenging for students to get into the Class of 2025, especially at competitive universities. Will holdovers from this year, when freshman enrollment was down, increase competition for spots next fall? Or will fewer people ultimately apply, giving more students a shot at their dream schools?

Final application deadlines are still to come, but the data on early-decision applications this month showed a slightly smaller number of students applying to college, especially from low-income families, although those that did were trying their luck at more schools than usual.

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