With COVID-19 cases soaring nationwide, school districts across the U.S. are yet again confronting the realities of a polarized country and the lingering pandemic as they navigate mask requirements, vaccine rules and social distancing requirements for the fast-approaching new school year.
Students in Wichita, Kansas, public schools can ditch the masks when classes begin. Detroit public schools will probably require them only for the unvaccinated. In Pittsburgh, masks will likely be required regardless of vaccination status. And in some states, schools cannot mandate face coverings under any circumstances.
The spread of the delta variant and the deep political divisions over the outbreak have complicated decisions in districts from coast to coast. In a handful of conservative states, lawmakers have banned districts from requiring masks despite outcry from medical professionals. Schools are weighing a variety of plans to manage junior high and middle school classrooms filled with both vaccinated and unvaccinated students.
School officials say decisions about whether to require masks have been complicated not only by community pressure and the delta variant but also conflicting advice from public health officials.
MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:
— Dr. Fauci, Sen. Paul trade charges of lying about virus
— CDC: Delta variant accounts for 83% of U.S. cases
— Britain hits most daily virus deaths in 4 months
— Research: Millions may have died in India during pandemic
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
BOSTON — Boston health officials are urging recent visitors to Provincetown to self-isolate and get tested for COVID-19 after a cluster of cases was linked to the popular Cape Cod tourist town.
The Boston Public Health Commission said Tuesday that at least 35 cases of COVID-19 in Boston have been traced to Provincetown, with the vast majority of cases involving people who were fully vaccinated.
Anyone who has traveled to Provincetown since July 1 is being asked to get tested at least five days after returning. The travel guidance also asks recent visitors to self-isolate and avoid gatherings for at least five days and until they receive a negative COVID-19 test.
Provincetown officials issued a new mask advisory on Monday after more than 100 people tested positive following the Fourth of July holiday.
The advisory encourages mask-wearing for all residents and visitors of the town, which is a popular LGBTQ+ summer destination.
ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis area is facing a third wave of COVID-19 that could cause more deaths and serious cases if residents don’t get vaccinated and return to wearing masks in public, the head of the region’s pandemic task force said Tuesday.
Dr. Clay Dunagan, BJC HealthCare’s chief clinical officer, said seven COVID-19 patients have died in the St. Louis region and 91 were admitted to intensive care units during the 24 hours before he issued his plea Tuesday morning.
“The vaccine is available, but unfortunately the vaccination rate in our community has not been high enough to prevent spread of the delta variant,” Dunagan said. “We now need to return to masking to combat this new wave of infections.”
He said even people who have been vaccinated should wear masks in public, in part because only 46.3% of Missourians had been fully vaccinated as of Tuesday, which significantly trailed the national average.
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has approved allowing vaccinated people to go without masks, the St. Louis area’s vaccination rate isn’t high enough to follow that recommendation because of new cases caused by the more infectious delta variant, Dunagan said.
Dunagan’s appeal came the day after state health officials issued a hot spot advisory for Laclede, Phelps, and Pulaski counties, in central Missouri. That brought to 14 the number of counties in southwestern and central Missouri that have been designated as hot spots by the Missouri Department of Health since July 7.
HAVANA — The COVID-19 pandemic is slamming Cuba like never before, even as the country races to roll out its homegrown vaccines — the only locally developed shots being widely used in Latin America.
The island had seen far fewer infections that most other Latin American nations over the first year or so of the disease, imposing strict quarantines, isolating the infected and shutting down its tourism industry despite devastating economic consequences.
But new cases have been soaring in recent weeks, with an average of about 6,000 a day being reported in the country of 11 million people. The first three weeks of July have accounted for about 100,000 of the nearly 300,000 infections recorded altogether in Cuba since the first case arrived some 16 months ago.
Cuba’s national director of epidemiology, Francisco Durán, said Tuesday that 717 people have died so far this month in Cuba — a heavy share of the 2,019 who have died in all.
Anxiety over that spread was one of the factors that fed into the wave of street protests that broke out across the country on July 11.
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A health leader says Alabama is suffering a “self-inflicted” wound from COVID-19, with hospitals filling up as the state trails the nation in vaccinations.
Nearly 500 people are being treated for the virus statewide, according to state statistics. Only 166 people were hospitalized a month ago with COVID-19 after thousands were vaccinated and before the new delta variant took hold.
Hospitals are far from the critical point they reached in January, when some 3,000 people were being treated at one time. But the delta variant threatens to worsen the situation barring an increase in vaccinations, said Dr. Donald Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association.
“There’s just a sense of frustration,” said Williamson, the former head the Alabama Department of Public Health. “The fact that cases are rising is a self-inflicted injury.”
Precautions such as face masks and social distancing are scarce in the state. Statistics show only 50 people would currently be hospitalized if everyone who is eligible for a shot had gotten one, Williamson said. “This is the plague of our generation, and certainly of our lifetime,” he said. “And now it could be so easily averted, but we’re failing to do that.”
Only 38% of the state’s population has received at least one vaccine dose and just 31% are fully vaccinated, according to state statistics.
LAS VEGAS — The Las Vegas school district, the fifth largest in the U.S., says it is sticking with its plan to only require face masks this fall for some students despite recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics to follow stricter guidelines.
The Las Vegas-area Clark County School District plans to require face masks for fourth and fifth grade students but make them optional for students in preschool through third grade. Students in sixth through 12th grade and teachers would not be required to wear masks if they’re vaccinated. The district with more than 300,000 students is scheduled to start its school year Aug. 9.
The American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending schools require face masks for children older than 2 and all adults, regardless of vaccination status. Clark County health officials, citing rising coronavirus cases, on Friday recommended people wear masks in crowded indoor places whether or not they are vaccinated.
Clark County schools told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that if it changes its policy, it will notify the community.
NEW ORLEANS — The city of New Orleans is considering new restrictions following a nine-fold increase in daily coronavirus cases and the percentage of positive tests.
City spokesman Beau Tidwell says Mayor LaToya Cantrell and the city’s health officer will announce plans Wednesday. He says rules involving masks are “certainly a strong possibility.”
The average daily number of cases skyrocketed from 11 two weeks ago to 99 on Monday. Most new cases involve the delta variant of the virus. While mitigation measures are being considered, Tidwell says getting more people vaccinated is the key to stopping the spread.
The city eased most virus-related restrictions, including masking requirements for businesses and individuals, in May.
WASHINGTON — A recurring clash between the government’s top infectious disease doctor and a U.S. senator has erupted again on Capitol Hill, with each accusing the other of lying.
Dr. Anthony Fauci angrily confronted Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky in testimony before a Senate committee. Fauci rejected Paul’s insinuation that the U.S. helped fund research at a Chinese lab that could have sparked the COVID-19 outbreak.
Fauci spoke to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, saying a study the senator mentioned referenced a different sort of virus entirely from the one responsible for the coronavirus outbreak.
“Senator Paul, you do not know what you’re talking about, quite frankly,” Fauci said. “And I want to say that officially. You do not know what you’re talking about.”
He added, “If anybody is lying here, senator, it is you.”
It was the latest in a series of clashes between Paul and Fauci about the origins of the virus that caused the global pandemic.
LONDON — Britain has recorded its highest daily number of coronavirus-related deaths in four months, following a spike in infections amid the spread of the delta variant and lifting of lockdown restrictions.
Government figures Tuesday showed 96 new virus-related deaths, the highest since March 24. The U.K. also recorded 46,558 confirmed cases. The numbers on Tuesday have traditionally been higher because of a weekend reporting lag.
The increase in deaths comes a day after the British government ended lockdown restrictions in England, including on social distancing and mask-wearing. Critics warn it will lead to further spread of the coronavirus and potential deaths in the coming weeks.
Britain’s confirmed virus-related death toll stands at 128,823, the seventh highest in the world.
NEW YORK — Health officials say the delta variant of the coronavirus continues to surge and accounts for an estimated 83% of U.S. COVID-19 cases.
That’s a dramatic increase from the week of July 3, when the variant accounted for about 50% of genetically sequenced coronavirus cases.
“The best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 variants is to prevent the spread of disease, and vaccination is the most powerful tool we have,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during a U.S. Senate hearing Tuesday.
The delta variant is a mutated coronavirus that spreads more easily than other versions. It was first detected in India but now has been identified around the world.
MEXICO CITY — Authorities in Mexico say they have found fake doses of the COVID-19 drug remdesivir offered for sale on the internet and at a private hospital near the U.S. border.
The federal medical safety commission said late Monday that the fake antiviral drug, which it called “a health risk,” was found at a hospital in the Gulf coast city of Tampico, in the border state of Tamaulipas.
The commission said the doses had been purchased in an “irregular manner” on the internet but didn’t say whether the medication had been used there.
The drug’s manufacturer, Gilead Sciences, confirmed the falsification. The appearance and lot numbers on the packaging didn’t match the original.
The U.S. and Mexico have approved remdesivir as a treatment for COVID-19.
NEW DELHI — The most comprehensive research yet estimates India’s excess deaths during the coronavirus pandemic were a staggering 10 times the official COVID-19 toll.
Most experts believe India’s official toll of 414,000 dead was a vast undercount, but the government has dismissed those concerns. A report released Tuesday estimates excess deaths to be 3 million to 4.7 million between January 2020 and this June.
It calculated its figures by comparing deaths to those in pre-pandemic years, considering the virus prevalence in the population and using an existing economic survey. The report also estimated that India’s initial virus surge last year killed many more people than reported, breeding complacency that set up conditions for the horrific surge earlier this year.
The report was published by Arvind Subramanian, the Indian government’s former chief economic adviser, and two other researchers at the Center for Global Development, a nonprofit think tank based in Washington, and Harvard University.
CAIRO — Muslims around the world are observing the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha, or the “Feast of Sacrifice,” in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic.
This year’s holiday comes amid growing concerns about the highly infectious delta variant that’s prompted some countries to impose new restrictions.
Indonesia is facing a devastating new wave of coronavirus cases and has imposed various restrictions.
Already, the pandemic has taken a toll for the second year on a sacred mainstay of Islam, the hajj, whose last days coincide with Eid al-Adha. The Islamic pilgrimage has been dramatically scaled back due to the virus.