- The CDC announced new guidelines on Thursday that heavily push for schools to reopen, citing the importance a school has on a child’s health and well being.
- The CDC gives multiple reasons for the recommendation, notably that children are believed to be at low-risk of catching and spreading COVID-19.
- The announcement comes at a time when the Trump Administration has threatened to withhold federal funding from school districts that refuse to allow in-person classes.
- Despite the threat and CDC guidelines, some of the nation’s largest school districts will still only offer online classes for the foreseeable future.
CDC Plans to Reopen Schools
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines Thursday that heavily encourage a quick reopening of schools.
The guidelines emphasize the importance of school in a child’s life, stating, “Aside from a child’s home, no other setting has more influence on a child’s health and well-being than their school.”
The move comes amid pressure from President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly said he was in favor of students returning to a classroom setting sooner rather than later.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, there have been widespread concerns that reopening schools could lead to spikes in COVID-19 infection rates. The CDC preempted those concerns, writing, “The best available evidence indicates that COVID-19 poses relatively low risks to school-aged children. Children appear to be at lower risk for contracting COVID-19 compared to adults.”
The agency added that minors only account for 7% of all COVID-19 cases and less than 0.1% of related deaths. Regarding whether or not this relatively low infection and death rate could be because students have been isolated since March, the CDC states, “Scientific studies suggest that COVID-19 transmission among children in schools may be low. International studies that have assessed how readily COVID-19 spreads in schools also reveal low rates of transmission when community transmission is low.”
“Based on current data, the rate of infection among younger school children, and from students to teachers, has been low, especially if proper precautions are followed. There have also been few reports of children being the primary source of COVID-19 transmission among family members.”
However, the agency does distance itself from any black and white statements, as they followed the prior statements with, “No studies are conclusive, but the available evidence provides reason to believe that in-person schooling is in the best interest of students…”
The Benefits of In-person Instruction
In general, the CDC pushed for students to go back to school not only because they believe the risk of infection is relatively low, but also because attending school has tangible benefits. To state the obvious, attending school means a better education for students. The agency emphasizes that “the need for in-person instruction is particularly important for students with heightened behavioral needs.”
Additionally, there are concerns that a lack of in-person instruction could mean that students experience an extended “summer-slide,” a well-documented phenomenon of students lacking skills they learned the year-prior by being out of the academic environment.
There were particular concerns for low-income students. The CDC notes that many students from low-income families often don’t have the infrastructure needed to facilitate at-home learning. For many, that includes a lack of consistent access to computers and stable internet. The guidelines point out, “Persistent achievement gaps that already existed before COVID-19, such as disparities across income levels and races, can worsen and cause serious, hard-to-repair damage to children’s education outcomes.”
The agency also notes that many families rely on schools to provide their children with proper nutritional needs. Over 30 million children are a part of the National School Lunch Program, while 15 million use the School Breakfast Program.
During the pandemic, schools have been providing many of these services to families; however, the agency claims the system is unlikely to be sustainable for the long-term, noting, “This is a particularly severe problem for the estimated 11 million food-insecure children, living in the United States.”
The new guidelines go on to list other reasons that the CDC justifies opening schools, including providing a safe environment for students who suffer from physical, emotional, psychological, or sexual abuse, physical fitness needs, and a way to provide economic relief to parents and caretakers.
For many parents around the U.S., there are conflicts between their work schedule and when they can watch their children. School normally provides that supervised environment that allows parents to work without needing to worry about the well-being of their child.
Many economists and lawmakers have concerns that even if the economy could begin to grow again, it may be hampered by the limited availability of workers from families who need to choose between working or watching their children
Pushback From Unions and Districts
For many, the CDC’s guidelines come as a shock, as the agency has been a large proponent of shutting down facilities and many aspects of society to try and slow the COVID-19 infection rate. Yet, the guidelines come a week after the President was criticized by Democratic lawmakers for not having a school reopening plan in place.
They also come at a tense moment between the Trump Administration and some of the largest school districts in the nation. Trump has threatened to pull federal funding from school districts that refuse to reopen for in-person instruction, saying that the funds could be better used by parents to choose to send their kids to charter or private schools.
Yet, not everyone is convinced that schools should reopen sooner rather than later. The American Federation of Teachers pushed back against reopening schools freely.
Local teacher union leaders, such as John McEntee from the Paterson Education Association in New Jersey, the states third largest teacher union, asked Gov. Phil Murphy (D) to hold off reopening schools.“Our union would suggest, at the moment, to set a target date of January and see where they are. If you can’t meet the target, that’s another conversation. Maybe you set another one for after spring break,” he explained to NJ Advance Media.
New Jersey, along with many other states, is opting to reopen schools under a hybrid model. Students will attend classes with modifications such as social distancing, while parents who are uncomfortable with this can opt to have their children continue their education through online instruction.
Other districts, notably New York City, are looking at only opening one to three days a week as a way to slowly reintroduce students to an in-person school environment.
Some of the largest school districts in the nation, like Los Angeles and San Diego, are currently looking at online instruction only until furhter notice.
Man Spent COVID Relief Loan on $58,000 Pokemon Card, Feds Say
The man is facing a wire fraud charge, which carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.
COVID Relief Funds Used on Pokemon Card
Authorities have accused a man in Georgia of misusing COVID-19 relief funds, claiming that he spent $57,789 on a single Pokemon card.
Prosecutors said Vinath Oudomsine made false statements about the gross revenue his business earns and the number of workers he employs when he applied for aid authorized under the CARES Act.
On his July 2020 application, Oudomsine allegedly claimed he had 10 employees and 12-month gross revenues of $235,000.
The following month, he was given about $85,000 from the Small Business Administration (SBA), which means he spent nearly all of the money on the rare card.
Authorities have given few details about the specific card purchased, though they have said Oudomsine was charged with wire fraud and is expected to appear in court on Thursday.
The charge carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.
Misuse of COVID Relief Funds
Oudomsine is far from the first person to face charges for fraud related to small business loans issued amid the pandemic. Others who received relief funds have been accused of spending the money on Lamborghinis, nights at strip clubs, and even an alpaca farm, among other purchases.
In fact, the first person to be charged with fraudulently seeking a pandemic relief loan was recently sentenced to 56 months in prison following a nationwide search after the man faked his own death.
According to The Washington Post, a federal watchdog said this month that the SBA overpaid $4.5 billion in grants to self-employed people and that “no system of controls was in place to flag applications with flawed or illogical information.”
On top of that, the SBA inspector general determined earlier this year that the agency rushed to send out billions of dollars in loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) “at the expense of controls” that could have blocked inappropriate aid.
In a statement on Sunday, the agency said that under the Biden administration, it has worked with Congress and the inspector general to add antifraud measures. Meanwhile, defenders of pandemic relief programs have argued that flagged loans and grants represent only a small fraction of the distributed aid that has been critical to small businesses and their pandemic recovery.
See what others are saying: (NPR)(USA Today)(The Washington Post)
FDA Authorizes Moderna and J&J COVID Vaccine Boosters, Approves Mix-and-Match Doses
The approval will allow at-risk Americans who received Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to get any booster six months after their initial series and all Johnson & Johnson recipients 18 and older to do the same two months after their single-shot dose.
New FDA Authorization
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday authorized boosters shots of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines and approved a mix-and-match strategy that will allow people who got one company’s shot to get a booster from a different maker.
The decision paves the way for millions of more at-risk Americans to get extra protection, and not just certain Pfizer recipients as previously approved by the FDA.
Under the authorization, people who received Moderna or Pfizer can get any one of the three booster shots six months after completing their initial series if they are 65 and older, at high risk of severe COVID, or face increased exposure because of their work.
Meanwhile, all J&J recipients 18 and older can get any of the approved vaccines two months after they received the one-shot jab.
Hazy Recommendations, For Now
Notably, the FDA did not recommend a certain combination of vaccines, nor did the agency say whether or not it would be more effective for people to stick with their original vaccine maker for their booster.
The new authorizations draw on a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which found that there are no safety concerns with mixing boosters and that vaccine combinations were at least as effective in stimulating antibodies as matched vaccines.
In the case of J&J recipients, the NIH found that people actually had a higher boost from mixing either Moderna or Pfizer boosters.
However, some of the scientists who worked on the study said it should not be used to recommend one combination over another because the research was limited.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which determines vaccine recommendations, could issue more guidance on when and whether people should switch vaccine makers for their booster shots.
An advisory panel for the agency is meeting Thursday to discuss the new FDA authorizations and recommendations.
Once the panel makes its decision, the CDC director has the final say on the guidelines. If the agency agrees with the FDA’s decisions, the booster shots could be rolled out as soon as this weekend.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
Paris Hilton Urges Lawmakers To Crack Down on Abusive Teen Treatment Facilities
The heiress alleges that she was a victim of abuse in these types of centers for two years and wants to ensure that no child suffers through the same experience.
Paris Hilton Details Abuse Within “Troubled Teen Industry”
Socialite and entrepreneur Paris Hilton spoke outside of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday to support the Accountability for Congregate Care Act, which is set to be introduced in the near future.
Hilton joined Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) to advocate for the legislation, which aims to create a “bill of rights” for children in treatment and behavioral centers.
The heiress has alleged that she spent two of her teenage years in these types of facilities and was subject to rampant abuse. She is far from alone.
During a press conference, Hilton said that one night when she was 16, she woke up to two large men in her bedroom forcing her out of her house. She said she screamed for help because she thought she was being kidnapped, but her parents watched as she was taken away to a “troubled teen” program.
“Like countless other parents of teens, my parents had searched for solutions to my rebellious behavior,” she explained in an op-ed for The Washington Post this week. “Unfortunately, they fell for the misleading marketing of the ‘troubled teen industry’ — therapeutic boarding schools, military-style boot camps, juvenile justice facilities, behavior modification programs and other facilities that generate roughly $50 billion annually in part by pitching ‘tough love’ as the answer to problematic behavior.”
Hilton said she was sent to four different facilities where she was “physically and psychologically abused.”
“I was strangled, slapped across the face, watched in the shower by male staff, called vulgar names, forced to take medication without a diagnosis, not given a proper education, thrown into solitary confinement in a room covered in scratch marks and smeared in blood and so much more,” she explained during the press conference.
“At Provo Canyon School in Utah, I was given clothes with a number on the tag. I was no longer me, I was only number 127,” she continued. “I was forced to stay indoors for 11 months straight, no sunlight, no fresh air. These were considered privileges.”
Goals of the Accountability for Congregate Care Act
Hilton claims that a lack of transparency and accountability has allowed this structure of abuse to thrive for decades. In some cases, she said it has taken children’s lives. Now, she wants Congress and President Joe Biden to act.
“This bill creates an urgently needed bill of rights to ensure that every child placed into congregate care facilities is provided a safe and humane environment,” Hilton said of the Accountability for Congregate Care Act.
“This bill of rights provides protections that I wasn’t afforded, like access to education, to the outdoors, freedom from abusive treatment, and even the basic right to move and speak freely. If I had these rights and could have exercised them, I would have been saved from over 20 years of trauma and severe PTSD.”
Foster children, children being treated for mental disorders, and other children in youth programs would be impacted by the bill.
Hilton was one of several survivors and advocates who fought for the legislation on Wednesday. Rep. Khanna thanked them for using their stories to fight for change.
“No child should be subjected to solitary confinement, forced labor, or any form of institutional abuse,” he wrote. “Thanks to Paris Hilton, my colleagues & the survivors & advocates who joined us today to discuss how we can hold the congregate care industry accountable.”
While only Democratic legislators are currently sponsoring the bill, Hilton called for a bipartisan effort to fight for the rights of children.
“Ensuring that children are safe from institutional abuse isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue,” Hilton said. “It’s a basic human rights issue that requires immediate attention.”