By ADRIANA GOMEZ LICON and ADAM GELLER Associated Press
MIAMI (AP) — The resurgence of the coronavirus in the United States ignited fierce debate Monday about whether to reopen schools, as global health officials warned that the pandemic will intensify unless more countries adopt comprehensive plans to combat it.
“If the basics aren’t followed, there is only one way this pandemic is going to go,”said the director of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “It’s going to get worse and worse and worse.”
Debate over the risks the virus poses, and how best to fight it, were spotlighted in Florida after it shattered the record among U.S. states for the largest single-day increase, with more than 15,000 newly confirmed cases.
Officials and health experts in hard-hit Miami pushed back against pressure, both from Gov. Ron DeSantis and President Donald Trump, to bring students back to classrooms next month.
“We just absolutely cannot risk the health of children, their well-being and safety, or any of our colleagues,” said Karla Hernandez-Mats, president of the United Teachers of Dade union and a middle school teacher herself. “We’re probably going to have to go to a full shutdown mode. I can’t see the schools reopening except with the 100% virtual model.”
Parents have until Wednesday to notify the Miami-Dade school district of their decision whether they will send their kids to school this fall or have them study online from home.
“Children can get the virus in their bodies and get contaminated just like anybody else,” said Florida International University epidemiologist Dr. Aileen Marty, who has been advising the Miami school district on its reopening plans.
DeSantis has argued that children have not proven to be vectors for the disease and that if retailers like Walmart can be reopened safely, then schools should be able to as well. But he made those arguments with a notable caveat, saying that each county should make its own decision on reopening in consultation with local health officials.
WHO officials cautioned that decisions on reopening schools should be made without political considerations, as part of a comprehensive strategy for battling COVID-19.
“We can’t turn schools into yet another political football in this game. It’s not fair on our children,” Dr. Michael Ryan, the organization’s emergencies chief, said Monday.
The debate is hardly limited to Florida.
In Detroit, where summer school classes for hundreds of students opened Monday, protesters blocked a school bus yard with tree branches.
"When I visited schools this morning I knew we were doing the right thing for children,” schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said, in a post on Twitter.
“COVID is not going away. Many of our children need face-to-face, direct engagement,” he said.
But lawyer Shanta Driver said she planned to file a lawsuit to stop the in-person instruction.
“I’m not going back until this pandemic is defeated. There is not a safe way to return to school while this virus is spreading uncontained,” said teacher Benjamin Royal.
Officials in California’s two largest school districts, Los Angeles and San Diego, announced Monday that students will stick to online learning from home when school resumes next month, rather than return to classrooms.
The districts cited research about school safety experiences from around the world, along with state and local health guidance.