Schools Contemplate Fall Semester As COVID-19 Cases Rise In Many States As cases increase in 40 states and the debate over wearing masks continue, public health experts say the U.S. is losing the battle. And schools struggle with decisions over how to reopen.
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Schools Contemplate Fall Semester As COVID-19 Cases Rise In Many States

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Schools Contemplate Fall Semester As COVID-19 Cases Rise In Many States

Schools Contemplate Fall Semester As COVID-19 Cases Rise In Many States

Schools Contemplate Fall Semester As COVID-19 Cases Rise In Many States

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As cases increase in 40 states and the debate over wearing masks continue, public health experts say the U.S. is losing the battle. And schools struggle with decisions over how to reopen.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The reality is that some countries have brought the coronavirus under control. At the same time, there are parts of the world that are seeing record spikes, and that means the World Health Organization this weekend reported the largest one-day increase in global fatalities since May. Among those struggling - Brazil, India, Russia, South Africa and Peru. None of those nations have the kind of numbers that the U.S. does, though. Cases in the U.S. are on the rise in 40 states. Nearly 3.8 million people have been diagnosed with the virus. NPR's Allison Aubrey is tracking the numbers and joins us now. Hi, Allison.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: What's the current picture?

AUBREY: You know, as a nation, as you say, cases are climbing. We were up to 74,000 new cases in one day over the weekend. Georgia set a record high for a number of new cases. Florida is at about 10,000 cases a day. And hospitalizations, Rachel, are now nearly as high as they were back in April; deaths rising, too. Remember, fatalities were trending down in May and June. But in recent days and weeks, they've risen. We've surpassed 140,000 deaths, which is about a quarter of the globe's COVID-19 fatalities. So the picture is quite concerning here. Here's former CDC Director Tom Frieden.

TOM FRIEDEN: We are losing our battle against COVID. We already have a death rate that's six times the global average and one of the highest in the world. And cases and deaths are still increasing. Our economy and our educational systems will not be able to recover until we get the virus under control.

AUBREY: And all of this comes amid reports that the Trump administration aims to limit more funding to states to pay for things such as contact tracing and testing.

MARTIN: I mean, to many ears, that just won't make sense, limiting funding at a time when cases are spiking.

AUBREY: That's right.

MARTIN: How are states and their leadership, how are they reacting?

AUBREY: Sure. Well, I mean, there's going to be a lot of negotiation here, but Governor Mike DeWine of Ohio said yesterday on NBC that his state has doubled testing in the last five weeks and needs to do it again given the rising cases and what's happening in his state. But he says they can only do that with money coming in from the federal government and not just tomorrow and the next day but for months to come. And with the number of new cases rising in so many states, many local leaders obviously say they need resources.

MARTIN: So you have been reporting a lot on delays in testing results. What can you tell us there?

AUBREY: Well, the governor of Colorado, Jared Polis, yesterday called the national testing situation a disgrace, pointing to these delays. Many of us know people who've waited five or seven days to get a test result back.

MARTIN: Right.

AUBREY: And this weekend, Francis Collins, director of the NIH, the National Institutes of Health, said he agrees that these waiting times are just too long.

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FRANCIS COLLINS: It averages around the country. It's about three days. But in some places, it's as long as a week. And that really undercuts the value of the testing because you do the testing to find out who's carrying the virus and then quickly get them isolated so they don't spread it around. And it's very hard to make that work when there's a long delay built in.

AUBREY: Now, he points to the need for more point-of-care tests that can give results in minutes, like, right on the spot at the doctor's office or clinic. And he says more of these are on the way with some point-of-care tests being rolled out to hundreds of nursing homes in the coming weeks. And Collins also made the point that it's up to all of us to do the right thing to slow the spread of the virus, including wearing a mask when you are out and about.

MARTIN: Right. So, of course, not everybody wants to wear a mask, sees it as necessary and, frankly, it's not the law, right? We don't have a national mask requirement.

AUBREY: That's right. That's right. He says - President Trump has said in the last few days he doesn't believe in a national mask mandate. He wants to - people to have certain freedoms. But the reality is that so many top retailers have stepped in. I mean, Home Depot, Walmart, Target, CVS, Walgreens - you can't shop there, Rachel, if you don't wear one. And many states have new mask mandates, too. Governor Asa Hutchinson in Arkansas says he didn't want to have a mask mandate, but given the numbers in his state and the data showing they're effective, he did it. And Colorado Governor Jared Polis, he kind of flipped the argument on freedom. He said yesterday on ABC it was an easy decision to go with the statewide mandate after he saw the data showing that in his state, places with more masking had less spread of the virus.

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JARED POLIS: Masks are a ticket to more freedom. It makes it less likely that businesses will be shuttered. It makes it less likely that people will die. It makes it more likely school will return. If we care about those things, you're going to take that as a matter of personal responsibility to wear a mask, protect yourself, protect others, protect our economy.

AUBREY: And you heard him say there we all have this role. When you wear a mask, you could reduce spread in your community, making it more likely that schools could reopen in your community.

MARTIN: Right. So let's talk about that. This is a conversation you and I have a vested interest in.

AUBREY: Yes, we do.

MARTIN: We talked about it a lot. And so much of this depends on what the data says about how kids spread the virus, right? What do we know at this point?

AUBREY: Well, we know, Rachel, that kids get infected with the virus. And though there are some rare cases of very serious illness, typically kids get mild symptoms. The big question is, to what extent do kids spread the virus to each other or to the adults they come in close contact with? And, clearly, there's a lot riding on this question. Now, there's still some uncertainty here, but, increasingly, the evidence suggests that older kids, say 10 and up, including teenagers, are more likely to spread the virus compared to younger kids. It's not clear why, but a new analysis from South Korea shows this. Contact tracers there documented contacts of thousands of people who got the virus. They found older kids aged 10 to 19 were about twice as likely to spread the virus to others in their households compared to younger kids.

MARTIN: So where does this leave school districts at this point as they try to decide what to do?

AUBREY: Well, there's a consensus among many infectious disease experts that the more community spread there is in an area, the riskier it may be to bring kids back to classrooms. Now, countries including Japan and South Korea have managed to greatly reduce the spread. And Mike Ryan of the World Health Organization says this is key.

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MIKE RYAN: If we suppress the virus in our society, in our communities, then our schools can open safely. And there are many countries around the world in which schools are reopening successfully and safely because countries have dealt with the real problem - community transmission.

AUBREY: So we hear him saying there we all have a role to play. When you wear a mask, you could reduce the spread in your community and make it more likely that schools may be able to open in your area.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Allison Aubrey. Allison, we appreciate you, as always, your reporting and analysis. Thanks so much.

AUBREY: Thank you, Rachel.

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