(CNN) — Schools and college campuses across the country should be OK to reopen, but officials need to proceed with caution and make safety a priority, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Monday.
The default position with K-12 schools should be to reopen them, said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
There are two big reasons schools should go back to in-person learning, Fauci said Monday. Students need the psychological and nutritional benefits of being in school, and parents may have to “dramatically modify their work schedule.”
“The primary consideration should always be the safety, the health of the welfare of the children, as well as the teachers and the secondary effects for spreading (to) the parents and other family members,” he said.
On college campuses, Fauci said testing will be the key to reopening. Plans should include testing people before they arrive on campus when they arrive and keeping quarantining them for 14 days. Colleges should still proceed with caution, though.
“If done properly, it would not be a risk, but then again, you’ve got to be careful when you get people coming in from outside,” he said. “But I think if they maintain the guidelines that are put together for people coming back, that they should be fine.”
Fauci’s remarks come as more than 4.7 million Americans have been infected with Covid-19, and more than 155,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins data. Despite the data, people are still not heeding warnings from officials and continue to gather in private and public places without protection like masks.
“They are ignoring the advice,” said aid William Haseltine, chairman and president of ACCESS Health International.
At least 30 states suffered higher rates of new deaths this past week compared to the previous week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
In 12 of those states, the increase in deaths was at least 50%: Washington, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, Texas, Mississippi, Michigan, Ohio, Maine, Virginia, West Virginia and Alaska.
And test positivity rates — an indicator of how rampantly a virus is spreading — remain stubbornly high in more than 30 states.
As one school district reopens, 260 employees infected or exposed
In Gwinnett County, Georgia, where some parents protested in favor of in-person classes, at least 260 school district employees tested positive for the virus or were in contact with someone infected, a district spokeswoman said.
That announcement came days after teachers returned to classrooms for in-person pre-planning, CNN affiliate WSB reported.
Across the country, some students have already tested positive as the school year begins.
At Greenfield-Central Junior High School in Indiana, a student tested positive on the first day of class — prompting school officials to isolate the child and start tracking who may have come into close contact with the infected student.
In Mississippi, a high school student tested positive during the first week of classes, the Corinth School District said.
On Monday, Florida reported the deaths of two more minors from COVID-19 complications. At least seven children between the ages of 5 and 17 have died from COVID-19 in Florida, according to the state’s health department.
In Florida’s Miami-Dade County, one of the hardest-hit places in the country, the superintendent said students will continue virtual learning until at least October.
All state-supported COVID-19 testing sites will reopen Tuesday, the Florida Division of Emergency Management said on Twitter. Sites began closing late last week because of Tropical Storm Isaias.
The in-person classes came after CDC guidelines laid out reasons for reopening schools, though it said places with significant, uncontrolled transmission of the virus should consider keeping school buildings closed.
The guidelines said children don’t suffer much from coronavirus but suffer from being out of school.
The CDC guidelines also said children are less likely to spread the virus than adults — but research suggests otherwise.
Two studies from Britain and Australia published Monday in the journal The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health highlight strategies that could be key in bringing children back to the classroom: scaled-up testing for cases, effective tracing of the contacts of those who test positive, and isolation of those who test positive or have symptoms.
Researchers in Britain found that schools could reopen safely so long as enough contact tracing is in place. Contact tracing strategies involve enough testing to find cases, isolating those people, then tracking down and quarantining their contacts.
In Australia, a team found that even though schools remained open in New South Wales between late January and early April, children and teachers did not contribute significantly to the spread of Covid-19 — because good contact tracing and control strategies were in place.
‘You have to do more than just wear masks’
If Americans want schools to safely reopen and the economy to improve, they must get more serious about personal responsibility, health experts say.
“You have to do more than just wear masks and keep social distancing. You have to minimize your contact with as many people as possible,” ACCESS Health’s Haseltine said.
“It’s not that complicated. But it is hard to do psychologically. It’s hard to do sociologically. And it’s extremely hard to do for young people.”
“And if you do have to work,” he said, “you have to assure that the workplace is safe and you can work safely at a distance.”
Keeping a safe work environment and reducing your contact with others “are the two most important things you can do in addition to wearing masks and keeping your 6-foot distance,” said Haseltine.
Some cities are even beginning to issue citations and fines to people who do not wear masks. Houston is one such city, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced Monday. City law enforcement will issue a warning, failure to heed that warning will result in a $250 fine, Turner said.
“Now, when our police officers and firefighters and others are encountering people who are not wearing masks, we are going to be issuing the necessary warning,” Turner said. “Please put on your mask on, and failure to do so will cause a citation, a ticket to be given.”
Coronavirus is ‘widespread’ in rural areas, too
What used to be an urban problem has spread to rural communities.
“It’s extraordinarily widespread,” said Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator.
“So everybody who lives in a rural area, you are not immune or protected from this virus. And that is why we keep saying, no matter where you live in America, you need to wear a mask and socially distance.”
At least 30 states have paused their reopening plans or imposed new restrictions as coronavirus remains out of control.
New Jersey is among the states implementing new restrictions. Gov. Phil Murphy announced Monday that indoor gatherings will be reduced to 25% of a room’s capacity with a maximum number of 25 people, due to the “upward climb” in the Covid-19 transmission rate. Murphy also cited a rise in indoor house parties that he said have been seen all across the state.
“We cannot be any clearer that indoor gatherings and especially large crowded ones where social distancing isn’t practiced and face masks aren’t worn, they are just not safe,” Murphy said. “The actions of a few knuckleheads leave us no other course.”
The new restrictions do not apply to weddings, funerals, memorial services and religious and political activities protected under the First Amendment.
Yet many people “aren’t wearing masks. They aren’t distancing,” said Dr. James Phillips, a physician and assistant professor at George Washington University Hospital.
“I’m concerned that the complacency that we’ve seen with coronavirus has led to these mass gatherings and a general disagreement with the science.”
At this point, hard-hit areas should enact another round of stay-at-home orders to try to get the virus under control, Phillips said.
“What I’m concerned about primarily is the fact that we haven’t controlled this virus in a serious way,” he said.
“We’re seeing rises in a lot of states, and now we’re talking about reopening schools and colleges in the midst of that — which I think is going to compound our problem significantly.”
Why some people should wear face masks at home
Birx said some Americans who are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic have unknowingly infected others in their household.
This can be especially dangerous if the virus eventually gets passed to elderly relatives or family members with underlying health problems.
So people who live with elderly relatives or those who have health problems in places that are experiencing outbreaks should consider wearing face masks at home, Birx said.
And those returning from summer vacations must be extra careful when they return, Birx said.
“If you have chosen to go on vacation into a hot spot, you really need to come back and protect those with comorbidities and assume you’re infected,” she said.