From cafeteria workers to principals, here’s what everyone makes in a public school

Elementary school teacher
Elementary school teachers earn a median wage of $62,050 a year.

35. Fast food and counter workers earn a median of $25,510 a year and 121,970 are employed by public schools.

school cafeteria workers preparing food

34. Institutional and cafeteria cooks earn a median of $26,130 a year and 116,220 are employed by public schools.

school cafeteria school cook

33. Childcare workers earn a median of $28,560 a year and 88,280 are employed by public schools.

preschool

32. School bus monitors and protective service workers, all other, earn a median of $29,120 a year and 58,930 are employed by public schools.

FILE - In this March 15, 2013, file photo, teacher Astrid Barrios, center, listens as Milford police detective Carlos Sousa, left, debriefs participants after a lockdown exercise at Milford High School in Milford, Mass. The actions of students who died tackling gunmen at two separate U.S. campuses a week apart have been hailed as heroic. At a growing number of schools around the country, they also reflect guidance to students who are told, at least in some situations, to do what they can to disrupt shootings. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)

This is a catch-all category used by the BLS to designate protective service occupations that are not included in other occupational groups. 

31. Teacher assistants earn a median of $29,320 and 963,030 are employed by public schools.

teacher

30. Substitute teachers earn a median of $29,510 a year and 414,660 are employed by public schools.

teacher

29. Coaches and scouts earn a median of $30,890 a year and 39,440 are employed by public schools.

high school football coach

28. Education instruction and library workers, all other, earn a median of $31,410 a year and 50,940 are employed by public schools.

library

This is a catch-all category used by the BLS to designate educational occupations that are not included in other occupational groups. 

27. Janitors and cleaners earn a median of $31,950 a year and 276,360 are employed by public schools.

janitor cleaning garbage Urige Buta
Olympic marathon hopeful Urige Buta pushes a cleaning cart as he works at a high school in Haugesund, west of Oslo on March 19, 2012.

26. Office clerks earn a median of $33,330 a year and 94,600 are employed by public schools.

office worker laptop plant

25. Bus drivers earn a median of $33,900 and 189,570 are employed by public schools.

Bus driver

24. Security guards earn a median of $35,720 and 28,890 are employed by public schools.

school security guard in New York

23. First-line supervisors of food prep and serving workers earn a median of $36,440 a year and 32,890 are employed by public schools.

cafeteria

22. Secretaries and administrative assistants earn a median of $38,260 a year and 205,820 are employed by public schools.

receptionist

21. Bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks earn a median of $42,400 a year and 28,940 are employed by public schools.

bookkeeping accounting spreadsheet

20. Maintenance and repair workers earn a median of $44,440 a year and 53,340 are employed by public schools.

classroom repair ceiling

19. Teachers and instructors, all other, earn a median of $47,250 a year and 87,550 are employed by public schools.

teacher

This is a catch-all category used by the BLS to designate class-room occupations that are not included in other occupational groups. 

18. Computer user support specialists earn a median of $48,000 a year and 30,370 are employed by public schools.

computer teacher with students

17. Preschool teachers earn a median of $53,550 a year and 48,640 are employed by public schools.

preschool teacher with kids

16. Registered nurses earn a median of $58,810 a year and 48,800 are employed by public schools.

nurse

15. Kindergarten teachers earn a median of $59,300 a year and 101,900 are employed by public schools.

kids storytime reading teacher kindergarten students

14. Kindergarten and elementary school special education teachers earn a median of $61,090 and 170,250 are employed by public schools.

special education

13. Middle school teachers earn a median of $61,780 a year and 529,600 are employed by public schools.

middle school teacher robotics

12. Child, family, and school social workers earn a median of $61,790 a year and 39,900 are employed by public schools.

social worker

11. Middle school special education teachers earn a median of $61,980 and 74,930 are employed by public schools.

autistic child
Six-year-old Gwendoline, an autistic child, works with Professor Gilbert Lelord at Bretonneau hospital in Tours, France.

10. Elementary school teachers earn a median of $62,050 and 1,199,550 are employed by public schools.

elementary school teacher

9. High school career and technical education teachers earn a median of $62,340 and 66,140 are employed by public schools.

shop class woodworking apprentice

8. Librarians and media collections specialists earn a median of $62,690 and 42,900 are employed by public schools.

Librarian

7. High school special education teachers earn a median of $63,060 and 123,160 are employed by public schools.

Special Needs Education

6. High school teachers earn a median of $63,400 a year and 847,900 are employed by public schools.

english school teacher
English teacher Radka Tomasek speaks to the class at the English Center June 16, 2006 in Miami, Florida.

5. Educational, guidance, school, and vocational counselors earn a median of $65,840 a year and 126,500 are employed by public schools.

guidance counselor

4. Instructional coordinators earn a median of $70,210 a year and 70,420 are employed by public schools.

Teacher
In this May 13, 2010 photo, English teacher Nicholas Melvoin walks around his classroom as he teaches at Edwin Markham Middle School.

3. Speech-language pathologists earn a median of $71,120 a year and 53,960 are employed by public schools.

Speech and Language Pathologist

2. Clinical, counseling, and school psychologists earn a median of $77,500 and 41,320 are employed by public schools.

child psychologist

1. Education administrators, such as principals and superintendents, earn a median of $99,690 and 214,110 are employed by public schools.

Arizona principal empty classroom

Method and data source

Public schools employ a wide variety of workers, and salaries range from well below the median wage to very high-paying.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics program offers data on employment and wages across different occupations and industries. According to that report, there were about 7.27 million Americans employed by public schools owned by local governments in May 2020, the most recent year for which data is available.

The median annual wage across all public school occupations was $49,680. The salaries for occupations with at least 25,000 employed within the sector range from $25,510 for fast food and counter workers to $99,690 for education administrators.

Teacher salaries also vary between grade levels. For instance, high school teachers earn a median wage of $63,400 a year, while middle school teachers earn a median wage of $61,780. 

For our analysis, we looked at all the occupations with at least 25,000 employees in the local-government-owned school sector in May 2020. We then ranked these occupations from lowest to highest wage. In addition to the median annual pay, the above slides also include the number of people in that job within this industry.

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CDC says 3 feet of social distance is enough for kids at school, another reminder that the 6-foot rule is imperfect

school reopening
Kindergarten students raise their hands at Lupine Hill Elementary School in Calabasas, California on November 9, 2020.

  • The CDC changed its physical distancing guidance for K-12 schools on Friday.
  • The agency says 3 feet of space is enough between students, in most circumstances.
  • 6 feet of space is still advisable between staff, and when students can’t wear their masks.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shifted its physical distancing guidance for K-12 schools across the country on Friday, saying three feet of distance is generally enough between students in the classroom – as long as they’re masked up.

The change came after new research from Massachusetts published earlier this month showed that it made little difference to coronavirus case rates whether students and staff in elementary, middle, and high schools in that state were spaced 3 feet or 6 feet apart.

But the new 3-foot rule does not apply in every situation.

The CDC says teachers and staff still need to maintain 6 feet

The CDC’s new guidance does not extend to adults and teachers in schools, who should still maintain 6 feet of distance between one another, the agency said.

“Transmission between staff is more common,” the CDC’s new guidance reads, citing numerous studies that suggest the same.

And, in “areas of high community transmission,” everyone in middle school and high school should still continue to maintain 6 feet of distance at all times, unless classrooms are podding students together, the CDC added.

More distance is also critical when masks can’t be worn (such as in cafeterias where students are eating), and when kids are breathing heavily, as they do when singing, playing music, and exercising.

“Move these activities outdoors, or to large, well-ventilated space when possible,” the CDC said.

The new 3 foot rule will make it easier to arrange classroom space

school
A teacher teaches her class in Fairfax, Virginia, after schools reopened to some students in February.

Experts (including Dr. Anthony Fauci) have been heralding the change in recent days, knowing it will make a big practical difference in classrooms where there isn’t always enough space to keep every child six feet from their classmates.

“One of the things that’s going to hamper return to schools is the 6 feet rule,” Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health told reporters earlier this month, after the Massachusetts study came out.

“I really think that the evidence right now does not back up the need for that,” Jha added. “Teachers and students can be kept safe without that rule.”

Other strategies the CDC suggested to help curb the spread of disease in the classroom included facing students’ desks in the same direction when possible, eliminating or reducing staff meetings and lunches, and more widespread screening tests.

The new guidance also stresses the continued importance of cohorting students into distinct groups or pods that stay together throughout the day, to prevent widespread transmission if there ever is an outbreak.

6 feet was never a hard and fast rule built for every situation

Teachers try to prevent the hug between Wendy Otin, 6, and Oumou Salam Niang, 6, as they meet during the first day of school after the lockdown.
Teachers try to prevent the hug between Wendy Otin, 6, and Oumou Salam Niang, 6, as they meet during the first day of school after the lockdown.

The guidance change is our latest reminder that 6 feet is an arbitrary number, and that people may be able to get away with less spacing (or need more) depending on the situation they’re in, as well as what the coronavirus is doing where they live and work.

Important factors to consider when deciding how much space you need to make between people from different households include: how old the people are, how rampant coronavirus transmission is in the area, how good the ventilation is, whether people have been tested and/or vaccinated, and if everyone is wearing masks, or not.

“Everybody’s gotta be masked up in schools,” Jha said.

The World Health Organization already recommends a 1-meter distance (that’s about 3.3 feet) between people to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but the agency also stresses that “the further away, the better,” and adds that indoors, people should be spaced out more than that.

In addition to prioritizing more ventilation and adequate spacing in the new guidance, the CDC got rid of the agency’s previous recommendations for more physical barriers (like sneeze guards) to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools. The CDC said there just isn’t enough evidence to suggest such physical dividers really do much to prevent the spread of this virus between people at all.

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Parents are set to be some of the biggest winners under the Biden administration. Here are 4 ways Democrats aim to support families.

biden vaccine
President Joe Biden.

  • Parents are set to be some of the biggest winners in Biden’s fiscal stimulus proposal.
  • Democrats are trying to expand relief for families through four key proposals.
  • They are a child tax credit, “baby bonds,” school aid, and childcare assistance. Biden wants to make the first one permanent.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Democrats are pushing forward with President Joe Biden’s fiscal stimulus proposal, with Senate Democrats advancing the bill today. Parents are set to be among the biggest beneficiaries.

The president’s $1.9 trillion relief package is meant to accelerate the US economy’s rebound from the coronavirus recession. The legislation’s most-talked-about elements include $1,400 direct payments and an expansion of federal unemployment benefits, but the package could help American families, too.

The CARES Act, enacted last March, helped parents with direct payments for children, but Democrats are looking to further alleviate families’ economic pressures.

Biden has indicated he aims to pass the measure with bipartisan support, but congressional Democrats have taken steps to pass it through budget reconciliation, a process that allows the Senate to pass bills with a simple majority.

Should all 50 Senate Democrats line up in support of the package, Vice President Kamala Harris would cast the tie-breaking vote, approving the measure without any Republican backing.

Here’s how Biden and congressional Democrats plan to support parents through the coronavirus recession, from an expanded child tax credit to new aid for childcare providers.

You can jump to a section or group through the table of contents here, or you can scroll through.

Table of Contents: Static

1. At least $3,000 in direct annual payments

Congressional Democrats proposed that the American Family Act form a critical part of Biden’s rescue package. Biden told House Democrats on Wednesday he supports making the temporary beefed-up child tax credit permanent, Insider’s Joseph Zeballos-Roig reported, the first time the president has indicated such support.

The child-tax-credit program would, over the course of 2021, provide families $3,600 per child 5 and under, and $3,000 per child between 6 and 17. That would be up to $300 in monthly cash benefits per child for American families.

The initiative would be set up as a one-year emergency federal program, with the IRS doling out monthly benefits beginning July 1 to ease childcare costs and assist families who lost income during the pandemic. Some experts have deemed the timeline ambitious, considering tax season and the pandemic.

Nina Olson, the former head of the Office of the Taxpayer Advocate, noted that the IRS spent years building a framework for Obamacare’s premium tax credit.

“It is fine to authorize the payments, but there needs to be at least 18 months’ lead time, and even that is a stretch,” Olson told Politico. “Otherwise you just get something that is tacked on to mid-20th-century technology that is completely inflexible.”

One of the legislation’s sponsors, Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, has insisted a monthly rollout is better. “Nobody pays their bills once a year – you pay your bills each month,” she said at a virtual news briefing on the plan. “The design makes more sense and helps families make ends meet through difficult months.”

The payments could start phasing out for individuals earning $75,000 and for couples making $150,000, though this could change in the coming weeks as committees draft the legislation. The credit would be refundable, meaning lower-income families could see higher tax refunds.

Researchers at Columbia University projected that the plan could cut the child poverty rate in half. The Biden administration has indicated support, and Democrats said they’d likely press for a permanent extension later this year.

2. ‘Baby bonds’

Democrats also unveiled a plan to create $1,000 savings accounts for every American child that become accessible when they turn 18. The measure, backed by Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, would add up to $2,000 to each child’s account every year.

Pressley said that introducing this so-called baby bond as a birthright would combat racial and economic injustice and set Americans up for brighter futures.

“Our bill will provide every child an opportunity to pursue higher education, purchase a home, and build wealth for generations to come,” she said in a statement.

The interest-accruing accounts would be managed by the Treasury Department. Holders could tap the account once they reach 18, and the funds could be used for only specific kinds of purchases, a 2018 press release unveiling the proposal said. Some of those are buying a home, paying for higher education, or opening a business – taking some pressure off parents who might have had to shoulder those costs.

The measure isn’t included in Biden’s proposal, but it has garnered support from influential party members including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Bernie Sanders, the chair of the Senate Budget Committee.

Booker has said the program’s $60 billion-a-year price tag could be easily offset by lifting estate taxes and eliminating tax breaks for the wealthy. While some federal policies have exacerbated the income gap, baby bonds could start to “level the playing field,” he said.

3. School aid

To support a school system strained by the pandemic, the administration is pushing for $130 billion to reopen and rebuild K-12 schools.

These funds are designed to help make schools a safe space during the pandemic, Biden’s website said. The proposal outlines reduced class sizes, modified spaces for social distancing, improved ventilation, provisions for personal protective equipment, and increased transportation to provide for social distancing on buses. Some of the funds would be allocated toward support for students’ academic, social, and emotional needs through things like extended learning time and counselors.

The aid is intended to close the digital divide that has deepened the socioeconomic gap. Some of the money would go to a COVID-19 Educational Equity Gap Challenge Grant for underserved communities and schools.

Public education, including community colleges and historically Black colleges, would get $45 billion, and $5 billion would go to governors to use for educational programs for both K-12 and higher-education students significantly affected by the pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic created unprecedented challenges for K-12 schools and institutions of higher education, and the students and parents they serve,” Biden said in a statement in January when he first pitched the plan. “School closures have disproportionately impacted the learning of Black and Hispanic students, as well as students with disabilities and English language learners.”

4. Childcare assistance

Childcare would form a $40 billion chunk of the package, with $25 billion earmarked for an emergency stabilization fund for care providers.

A study from the National Association for the Education of Young Children in July found that about four in 10 providers said they expected to close permanently if the government didn’t offer support.

“No one can go back to work in other industries if their children aren’t in safe, healthy settings,” said Ami Gadhia, the chief of policy, research, and programs at Child Care Aware.

Another $15 billion investment would expand childcare assistance to millions of families and parents who experienced job interruption due to the pandemic. The relief aims to help the disproportionate number of women who were forced to exit the workforce and become family caregivers.

The plan also seeks to provide a tax credit for as much as half of parents’ spending on childcare for children under 13. The credit could reach up to $4,000 for one child or $8,000 for two children. The full 50% reimbursement would start to phase out for families making more than $125,000 a year.

Outside childcare, Democrats are pushing to invest $3 billion in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. More people have used the program, commonly known as WIC, as more Americans have gone hungry through the pandemic.

The administration said the new funding would be spread out over several years and “ensure that low-income families have access to high-quality nutritious food and nutrition education.”

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Harmful metals and bacteria are lurking in the pipes at shuttered schools as students near a return to class, experts warn

school
A teacher teaches her class in Fairfax, Virginia, after schools reopened to some students in February.

  • Schools across the US are slowly welcoming students back to campus. 
  • Some campus buildings have sat vacant for nearly a year as class instruction moved online.
  • As a result, experts say harmful metals and bacteria are likely lurking in the pipes.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

As schools across the country begin reopening after months of closure, some districts are learning that hazardous material accumulated in their plumbing systems, and experts say stagnant water poses health risks to students and staff.

In Michigan and North Carolina, reports of elevated lead levels and bacteria in the water are scaring school officials. Their worry is that students and staff might be exposed to dangerous drinking water. 

Lead can enter water when plumbing materials that contain it begin to corrode, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Flushing school plumbing systems with fresh water is one way to ensure hazardous material does not form or linger in the water. But because of concerns related to the pandemic, schools across the United States have generally been closed for months.   

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, lead is a toxic metal “linked to damage to the central and peripheral nervous system, learning disabilities, shorter stature, impaired hearing, and impaired formation and function of blood cells” in children. 

There is no safe level of lead in drinking water, Elin Betanzo, a water engineer and the founder of Safe Water Engineering, a Michigan consulting firm that works to improve access to safe drinking water, told Insider.

Ann Arbor, Michigan, officials have previously said their schools followed flushing guidelines regularly during the summer when most students were not present. 

In October, however, tests of the water in several Ann Arbor schools showed high bacteria levels, leading officials to recommend flushing the pipes three times a week, up from two, according to a Chalkbeat report

In North Carolina, the assistant superintendent of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools district, Patrick Abele, said one of his schools detected traces of copper and lead, the local news outlet Chapelboro.com reported.

School buildings in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools system have been closed since March 2020 when schools and businesses across the US shifted to virtual learning and remote work.

At present, school leaders intend to allow students to return to classrooms in April, though legislation that passed both chambers of the North Carolina state legislature may force school leaders to reopen schools by mid-March, school officials said.

District representatives said they will continue to test the water and flush pipes as schools prepare to resume in-person learning. 

Water quality issues have also emerged in other parts of the country, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York, according to Chalkbeat.

School districts elsewhere are taking steps to prevent the accumulation of harmful bacteria and lead in water pipes.

Hawaii public schools, for example, partnered with the state health department to test tap water for lead. Testing in select schools began in February and is expected to continue through the end of the year, said Nanea Kalani, communications director for the Hawaii Public School district. 

“Nearly 75% of all public school students have resumed in-person learning,” Kalani told Insider. “Our facilities are consistently being utilized,” Kalani added.

About two dozen schools across the Hawaii islands will undergo routine testing this year. 

Some school districts do not anticipate being caught off guard by hazardous material in drinking water.

The Miami-Dade County schools district, one of the largest in the US, said lead exposure in particular is not a concern. “Miami-Dade is unique in that lead service lines have never been utilized and our water supply comes from the underground Biscayne Aquifer,” said Elmo Lugo, media specialist at Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

“Groundwater, unlike surface water sources, is filtered through the sedimentary layers of sand and limestone, which naturally filters out any traces of surficial lead.”

In the event of any unprecedented lead exposure, however, the school district has a partnership with what Lugo described to Insider as a governmental agency that stands ready to distribute bottled water to all sites.

Additionally, Lugo said Miami-Dade County schools “were not closed for a prolonged period of time without constant maintenance and/or capital improvements.” Schools were closed from March 16, 2020, and began reopening on October 5. During that time, Lugo said, each school building within the district followed flushing procedures and other measures to track and maintain the water quality. 

Pipes also undergo routine testing by the Water and Sewer Department and the Florida State Health Department. 

“These agencies rigorously test all of our schools on a regular basis. If they find anything, they notify us immediately,” Lugo said. “We are very proud of our proactivity in keeping each school free from secondary lead exposure and bacteria.”

New York City Public Schools, Chicago Public Schools, and the Los Angeles Unified School District – the three largest public school systems by enrollment in the US – did not return Insider’s requests for comment.

While school officials are focused on keeping COVID-19 out of classrooms, experts say dangers could be lurking in the pipes

“The longer we let it sit there, potentially, the greater concentration of chemicals are in the water,” said Andrew Whelton, a water quality researcher and professor of civil engineering and environmental and ecological engineering at Purdue University. 

Lead, copper, zinc, and other heavy metals that can be found in stagnant water pipes can have “acute health effects” if ingested, Whelton said.

But these concerns aren’t regularly considered, he said, because water systems in places like school buildings don’t typically sit stagnant for months on end. 

“When you would try to publish a study, showing that you let water sit in pipes for a very long time, scientists would reject it and say, ‘this never happens,'” he said. “So, you would have a hard time publishing it because people would say it’s unrealistic.”

Both Whelton and Betanzo said there aren’t federal standards requiring schools to test the quality of their water systems, leaving it up to the schools themselves to decide. 

Federal requirements only apply to schools when they’re considered a public water system. Most are not, Whelton said. 

“Most schools receive water from a public water system,” Whelton said. “And in that situation, the assumption has been that if the public water system delivers water to the water meter, and that’s safe, then clearly throughout the entire school, the water is safe all the time forever.”

Water can also vary in quality in different parts of the same schools, the experts told Insider. Rarely used faucets, drinking fountains, or entire areas of school buildings with less traffic, can also have higher levels of contaminants than water in other parts of the campus.

“You could have some really new water fountains with water bottle filling stations, and then maybe the school ran out of money and couldn’t replace the really old water fountains,” Whelton said.

“And those are the ones with high levels of lead,” he added. “The school can determine where they’re going to test. They don’t have to test the oldest ones. They don’t have to test the most used ones, and there’s really not good guidance for these schools.” 

Stagnant pipes can lead to the risk of harmful bacteria, like Legionella

In addition to harmful metals that seep into stagnant water, Whelton said that the lack of running water can allow a “slime” layer of bacteria and other organisms known as a biofilm to grow, allowing harmful bacteria, like Legionella – the cause of Legionnaires’ disease – to enter the water.

“When water is moving, you have water flowing, and because of that, you have shear forces that don’t allow the slime layer to get that thick,” he said. “And the thicker of the slime layer, potentially the easier it is for pathogens and disease-causing organisms to hide in it. And when the water stops moving, then the bacteria and other organisms will come out into the water.”

Schools that had partial shutdowns or adopted a hybrid system of virtual and in-person instruction are likely in a better situation, Betanzo said, as just some movement of water can prevent metals and bacteria from seeping in or growing.

“You can have all your water in great condition in your community,” said Betanzo. “You’re using it all the time, but once it hits that school building and nobody’s using it, the water stops moving. We call that water age.” 

As the water in pipes ages, the disinfectant added at water-treatment facilities dissipates and the biofilm grows. 

“If there were a few microorganisms in the water, they get to grow because there’s no chlorine or chloramines in there to control their growth,” she said.

And schools that say they’re flushing their pipes before students return may not be doing enough to entirely eliminate the hazards, she added.

“You want to make sure you are bringing fresh water to the entry point of the school and then using that freshwater to push the old water out,” Betanzo said. 

“If you’re not doing it methodically in that order, you could end up just pulling bad water around and around the building, especially in a building with more complex plumbing systems, like in larger high schools,” she added.

More complex cleaning of a school’s water system by third-party companies may also be necessary to properly remove bacteria clinging to the pipes. For now, Betanzo said she sends her own child to school with a large bottle of water each day. 

She also recommended students and staff keep their face coverings on during the day – even when alone in areas like the bathroom. While Legionella grows in water, it’s only harmful when its particles are inhaled, she said. Face masks to prevent COVID-19 spread can also prevent Legionnaires disease, she said.

Have a news tip about the water quality at your child’s school? Contact these reporters at: cperrett@insider.com and ydzhanova@insider.com

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Animation shows how opening a window can drastically stem coronavirus circulation in classrooms, as schools prepare to resume in-person learning

teacher classroom coronavirus
A second-grade teacher in Boston cleans a desk in her classroom in September 2020.

  • Studies increasingly suggest that schools can safely reopen if the right precautions are followed.
  • The NYT published an animation showing how virus particles can move around a classroom if one student is infected.
  • Air circulation in the room is important to keep spaces safe for students and teachers.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

As some US schools start resuming in-person learning, an animation shows why it is important for classrooms to have good air ventilation. 

The graphics, which were designed by the New York Times in collaboration with experts, simulates the flow of the coronavirus in a typical New York City public-school classroom in different scenarios with increasingly improved ventilation.

In this example, the windows are closed. Even with social distancing and mask wearing, the animation shows how the students’ breath still circulates in the classroom: 

In this case, around 3% of the air that each person breathes was exhaled by someone else, The New York Times said

The Times then modeled what would happen if there is an infected student in the classroom.

If there isn’t fresh air in the room, the breath of the infected student accumulates in the room, as this graphic shows: 

In this situation, the concentration of the virus in the air is high, as is shown by the dark red color of the lines in the graphic above.

Though it is not clear what how much exposure to the virus is needed to infect someone yet, “exposure is a function of concentration and time,” one of the experts who worked on the animation, Joseph Allen, told The Times.

As such, it seems logical that the more the virus is concentrated in the air and the longer people who aren’t infected are exposed to the virus, the more likely they ultimately become infected.

But if a window is opened, it is a different story. The virus continues to circulate, but doesn’t accumulate as much: 

The Times then showed what would happen if air was blown into the classroom using a fan and a high-efficiency particulate (HEPA) filter.

The results were better, as seen below, as the fan helped spread the particles in the space: 

The experts suggested that the best combination is to have an air purifier in the room as well as a fan to blow the air out of the room.

Having the fan draw the air out of the room, rather than in, means that the air is sucked away from an infected person, rather than blown from the infected person toward someone who is not infected.

The Times’ animation comes as studies increasingly suggest that schools should be safe to resume in-person learning, if the right precautions – like social distancing and mask wearing – are followed.

Children don’t seem to get as sick from COVID-19 as adults. According to the Centers of Disease and Control and Prevention, fewer than 250 children have died from COVID-19 in the US, compared to more than 500,000 deaths in total.

Some New York City middle schools reopened for the first time since the pandemic last Thursday, with 62,000 students from the sixth to eighth grades restarting a mixture of in-person and remote learning, NBC New York reported.

Under the city’s strict return-to-school rules, students are expected to sit at desks six feet apart and wear cloth masks to class, The Times reported. The city also mandates that at least one window be open in classrooms, The Times said.

The CDC also published guidance last month urging K-12 schools to reopen. An in-person learning option is currently required in Iowa, Arkansas, Texas, and Florida, according to CNN. 

President Joe Biden has said that he expects K-8 schools to be open five days a week within his first 100 days in office

However, many US schools districts don’t have the funding to improve the ventilation in their school rooms, as Insider’s Aria Bendix reported. A survey conducted last June found that 41% of school districts need to improve their ventilation systems

Resistance to mask wearing in schools could also prove tricky to their reopening.

In Georgia and Iowa, where schools have already resumed, there aren’t strict mask-wearing policies in place.

One CDC investigation in Cobb County, Georgia, between December 1, 2020, and January 22, 2021, suggested that two infection clusters started with teacher-to-teacher interactions. Inadequate masking and social distancing might also have been a factor, the researchers said.

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Children under 12 will ‘very likely’ be able to get a vaccine in early 2022, Fauci said

anthony fauci
Dr. Anthony Fauci is pictured above on November 19, 2020.

  • High-school children should be able to get a COVID-19 vaccines this fall, Dr. Anthony Fauci told NBC.
  • Children under 12 would likely get vaccine access in early 2021, he said. 
  • No coronavirus vaccines have been authorized for children under 16 in the US so far.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

A coronavirus vaccine for elementary-school children will “very likely” come in the first few months of 2022, Dr Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical advisor, said Sunday.

High-school children should be able to get access to vaccines in the fall of this year, he added.

“If you project realistically when we’ll be able to get enough data to be able to say that elementary school children will be able to be vaccinated, I would think that would be, at the earliest, the end of the year, and very likely the first quarter of 2022,” Fauci told NBC.

“But for the high school kids, it looks like some time this fall. I’m not sure it’s exactly on the first day that school opens, but pretty close to that,” he said.

Vaccine makers have started trials on children

Some drugmakers have already started studies into which vaccines are suitable for children, Fauci said.

FDA regulators have so far given emergency use authorization to three coronavirus vaccines in the US, developed by Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, and Pfizer and BioNTech.

Johnson & Johnson and Moderna’s vaccines have only been authorized for those 18 and older, while Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine has been authorized for those 16 and older.

In January, Moderna’s CEO, Stephane Bancel, said it would begin studying its coronavirus vaccine in young children “soon,” but added data most likely wouldn’t be available until 2022.

He said that Moderna was aiming to have the vaccine approval extended to adolescents ages 12 and older by this summer, so they can be vaccinated before returning to school in September. Trials began in December.

The University of Oxford, which has developed its vaccine with AstraZeneca, said in February it would start testing its vaccine in children as young as six. The vaccine has not yet been authorized for emergency use in the US.

Biden wants to reopen schools safely and quickly

An integral part of President Joe Biden’s coronavirus recovery program is to help schools reopen safely, and he plans to open the majority of K-8 schools within his first 100 days in office.

In the American Rescue Plan, his $1.9 trillion pandemic relief plan, he called on Congress to provide $130 billion to help schools reopen safely, by supporting social distancing in school buildings and facilitating remote learning. This includes reducing class sizes, improving building ventilation, hiring more janitors, ensuring every school has access to a nurse, and increasing school buses so that pupils can social distance while onboard.

In January, Fauci said he expected vaccination to become mandatory in some institutions in the future, which he said could include schools.

As of Sunday morning, more than 75 million vaccine doses have been administered in the US, according to the CDC. Most of these have been given to people aged 18 and older, but more than 40,000 have been given to people younger than 18, according to the CDC data.

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San Francisco’s school renaming debacle is a timely mix of confused priorities and bad ‘facts’

Lincoln High school San Francisco
A pedestrian walks by a sign outside of Abraham Lincoln High School on December 17, 2020 in San Francisco, California.

  • San Francisco’s school board used inaccurate history to rename schools that haven’t even been open in a year.
  • Paul Revere was deemed irredeemably problematic based on a misreading of a History.com post.
  • Meanwhile, there’s still no date to reopen schools. 
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

San Francisco’s public schools were among the first in the US to shut down at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in February 2020. 

They’re still closed. And the outrage over the endless foot-dragging on re-opening is well-deserved, especially considering what the city’s school board has spent precious time on rather than laser-focusing on reopening.

Children – especially those in low-income households – continue to suffer mental anguish, the loss of irreplaceable months of youth and social discovery, and a permanent stunting of their education as long as in-person schooling remains unavailable.

And yet for some reason, San Francisco’s Board of Education recently devoted a disproportionate amount of time and energy on an effort to review every single public school in the district with the goal of swiftly renaming any building bearing the name of a person who contributed to the abuse or subjugation of women, minorities, queer people, and the environment.

There’s still no set date to reopen San Francisco’s schools. 

Misplaced priorities and moving goalposts 

In an extraordinary move, City attorney Dennis Herrera filed suit against the San Francisco Unified School District earlier this month, with the support of liberal Mayor London Breed, in an attempt to re-open schools. 

But the same excuses offered by the school board and teachers unions for why schools can’t reopen remain unchanged:

“Teachers’ lives would be at grave risk” is a common argument – even though the CDC has repeatedly stated that schools are among the lowest-risk public places for spreading COVID.

“Schools need revamped ventilation systems” is another – even though the CDC has recommended reopening schools with basic social distancing and ventilation measures (like a fan and an open window) as soon as possible.  

“Teachers need to be vaccinated” is yet another – even though teachers are among the prioritized professions for vaccination in California already

And while California is slowly ramping up its vaccine roll out, the school district and unions could use their resources to help teachers and school employees coordinate COVID vaccination appointments. Thus far, there has been no demonstrable urgency in taking such initiatives. 

But no one can argue the school board hasn’t treated the effort to rename schools with the utmost urgency. 

Originally conceived in 2018 in the wake of the Neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville, the school re-naming project was kicked into high gear this past summer following the police killing of George Floyd and protests against racism and police brutality.

A schools renaming committee was convened and as can be seen in public video of its deliberations, adherence to historical facts was a secondary concern, and the scope of its own mission seemed to change on the whims of a few of its members. 

Committee members were expected to come to the meeting having already conducted their research, and yet during the meeting members are seen Google-searching for impeachable evidence of reputation-destroying racism or contributions to colonialism. 

And even with such flimsy source material, members sometimes misread the information before them, as demonstrated when a committee member said Paul Revere participated in a conquest of Native American land.

Not only did that not happen, it isn’t even asserted in the History.com “10 Things You May Not Know About Paul Revere” post cited as evidence to justify removing Revere’s name.

Other names deemed worthy of removal included Abraham Lincoln, because despite signing the Emancipation Proclamation his policies were “detrimental” to Native Americans, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein for her support of an urban renewal project that displaced members of a Filipino community while she served as the city’s mayor. 

One committee member noted that former Mayor George Moscone also supported neighborhood-disrupting urban renewal projects, but the school named for the martyred Moscone (who in 1978 was assassinated along with the legendary gay rights activist and city supervisor Harvey Milk) was spared by the committee. 

The mythical city of “El Dorado” – in which a king sprinkled subjects in gold dust – was deemed removable because the Gold Rush led to the death of Native Americans and, as one committee member put it, “I don’t think the concept of greed and lust for gold is a concept we want our children to be given.” 

Another committee member pushed back, arguing that not only is El Dorado not real, it’s not a person, and therefore out of the scope of the group’s stated guidelines. His point of view was rejected out of hand. 

There were several more egregious mistakes, but the San Francisco school board voted 6 to 1 to accept the committee’s recommendations and to begin the process of swiftly renaming 44 schools – including those named for Revere, Lincoln, and Feinstein.

The response was tough but fair. 

A historical embarrassment

An exasperated Mayor Breed said the school board should “bring the same urgency and focus on getting our kids back in the classroom” and only when that’s accomplished should we “have that longer conversation about the future of school names.”

The liberal-leaning San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial board lamented that the board “largely quit the education business and rebranded themselves as amateur historians.”

And in an interview with The New Yorker’s Isaac Chotiner, school board president Gabriela Lopez appeared to defend the committee’s decision to not consult historians who could have easily helped the committee avoid its embarrassing mistakes. Lopez said she didn’t want “get into a process where we then discredit the work that this group has done.”

Following widespread outcry over both the historical misstatements and misprioritization of the issue  – particularly from liberals and Democrats who felt the whole thing made them look like “parodies of ourselves” – the school board this week halted the school renaming process until after schools are reopened

Historians, previously deemed inessential to the process of re-examining historical figures, will be invited into future discussions. 

There is still no anticipated date for San Francisco public schools to reopen, despite private schools and public schools in neighboring counties being opened for months. 

We need schools, and we need facts

It’s tempting to view the San Francisco school renaming debacle through a one-way culture war lens: with woke lefties beclowning themselves and a liberal city’s government unable to provide a basic public function. But that’s reductive. 

If the San Francisco community believes school renaming should be a priority for the district, the board should by all means push forward on those efforts. But it’s tragically comical to focus on renaming schools that have been closed for a year and for the foreseeable future. 

It is a story of misplaced priorities, but it is also indicative of a greater societal problem – which is the conscious choice by many to adopt a Manichean point of view that defines everyone as simply good or simply evil, with facts deemed secondary nuisances.

That’s why the San Francisco debacle matters. Because for citizens of this country to be able to share a reality-based existence, partisans on both sides need to accept that facts matter, political narratives be damned.

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There’s a clear, scientific path to safely reopening schools. The real barrier now is politics.

texas school reopening
Elementary school students walk to classes in Godley, Texas, on August 5, 2020.

By now, research clearly supports the idea that schools can safely resume in-person learning in the US. 

A January study of 11 school districts in North Carolina identified just 32 coronavirus infections in schools over nine weeks. Similarly, a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention detected minimal transmission among K-12 schools in Wood County, Wisconsin. 

In an opinion article last month, CDC researchers even called for schools to reopen, with a few ground rules: Masks should be worn at all times. Social distancing should be upheld. And indoor sports practices and competitions should be limited. 

But a few political obstacles stand in the way.

For one, many US school districts lack the funding to improve their buildings’ ventilation systems, routinely test teachers and staff, or reduce classroom sizes so students remain six feet apart – measures that would make parents and teachers more comfortable with in-person learning.

The CDC’s threshold for resuming full in-person instruction is also tough for most counties to meet right now, since it requires low levels of community transmission. That means that in some states, reopenings have been delayed even though they might be relatively safe for students and teachers. 

Then there’s the lingering issue of mask resistance. In states like Georgia or Iowa, classrooms are already open, but many school districts haven’t enforced strict mask policies. That leaves students and teachers at higher risk of infection, which could potentially force schools to close again.

“We’ve had a lot of issues with reopening based on science,” Kavita Patel, a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution, told Insider. “I’d love to see a world where there is a little bit more of a practical engagement of the states and mayors with the scientists.”

coronavirus school district California
Students return to in-person learning in Orange, California, on August 24, 2020.

Polarization around school mask policies

Stances on school reopenings have increasingly fallen into two polarized camps, according to Daniel Benjamin, a pediatric infectious-disease specialist at Duke University: There’s either a general neglect for safety measures, or too much risk aversion.

At one end of the spectrum, Benjamin told Insider, “you have schools that are paralyzed by fear. They just don’t have the political will to open, despite the fact that if you do mitigation strategies, it’s safer for kids and adults to be in school than to be in the community.”

Then there’s the group at the other end.

“They don’t believe in masking,” Benjamin said. “They don’t have the backup of the [school] board. They don’t have the backup of the superintendent. The parents tell the kids don’t wear a mask in school. Masking is not enforced in the schools. And that’s dangerous. That’s not a good plan.”

face mask kid school covid 19
Kindergartner Grace Truax, 5, removes her mask before posing for a portrait during “picture day” at Rogers International School in Stamford, Connecticut, on September 23, 2020.

A November ProPublica analysis found that 11 states were not requiring students to wear masks, even when gathered indoors or at sporting events. 

Benjamin suggested that instead, schools should use face coverings as an incentive for in-person learning.

“It’s super simple: If you don’t want to mask, we have an alternative for you. You can learn remotely,” he said. “Schools that are closed right now can really leverage that as a part of reopening.”

A lack of funding for safety measures 

President Joe Biden has set a goal of reopening the majority of K-8 public schools in his first 100 days in office – roughly by the end of April.

His proposed coronavirus relief plan would allocate $130 billion to help primary schools reopen with the appropriate safety precautions. Congress will likely vote on the final legislation in mid-March. If the funding is approved, schools could use it to improve ventilation, reduce class sizes, hire more janitors, distribute personal protective equipment, or modify classroom layouts for social distancing.

Many schools are waiting on this funding before reopening to avoid putting teachers or other staff at risk. Teachers’ unions across the country are also pushing for safety assurances before in-person learning resumes – that  classrooms are well-ventilated, community transmission is low, or vaccines are more widely available to school staff.

schools reopening protest
Teachers, parents, and children march in Brooklyn to protest the reopening of city public schools amid the threat of a teachers strike in New York, September 1, 2020.

Earlier this month, Philadelphia teachers held virtual classes outdoors in frigid weather to protest the city’s school reopening plan, which included using windows and fans, rather than mechanical ventilation, to circulate air.

Chicago teachers also refused to report to classrooms unless the city met their safety demands – such as more frequent cleaning of classrooms and permission for teachers with high-risk family members to continue working remotely. And in Montclair, New Jersey, the local teachers union called for all educators to be vaccinated before resuming in-person learning.

The longer schools wait to establish and implement their safety plans, the higher the costs to students.

A lack of access to school meals has put millions of households at increased risk of food insecurity, according to an October report. An analysis from McKinsey & Company suggests that American students, on average, are likely to lose five to nine months’ worth of learning by June due to the pandemic. Already this fall, a report found that student achievement in math in grades 3-8 was 5 to 10 percentile points lower than before the pandemic. 

“This is all expected and known when you have kids out of school for an entire year – millions of kids – that there would be devastating consequences,” Joseph Allen, director of Harvard’s Healthy Buildings Program, told NPR last week. “Our country has not treated it like the emergency it is.”

The CDC’s strict reopening guidelines

The CDC’s guidelines about when it’s safe for kids to return to school pose an added challenge for districts looking to reopen.

The agency recommends that counties either see fewer than 50 weekly COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people or have test-positivity rates below 8% before fully reopening K-12 schools – thresholds that are often hard to meet. Even though cases are declining across the US, around 14 states still have test positivity rates above 8%, and 35 states are seeing at least 105 weekly cases per 100,000 people, on average, according to data from the New York Times.

“Wake up call to parents – if schools start following this new guidance strictly, kids are not getting back to full-time school,” Allen told NPR.

Many states have not prioritized restrictions that could lower cases, thereby giving schools a better chance of meeting the CDC guidelines. Restaurants and bars, venues known to easily facilitate coronavirus transmission, are open in most of the country while many schools remain closed. Infectious-disease experts say that doesn’t make sense.

“As we look at the school setting itself, it’s somewhere that you can have some control over whether kids are wearing masks and whether kids are physically distanced,” Dr. Cindy Prins, an epidemiologist at University of Florida, told Insider. “It’s probably more of those outside [of school] activities that could contribute to transmission.”

school reopen coronavirus Texas
Elementary school students wear masks and use hand sanitizer before entering school for classes in Godley, Texas, August 5, 2020.

The CDC’s own instructions say that “K-12 schools should be the last settings to close after all other mitigation measures in the community have been employed, and the first to reopen when they can do so safely.”

Some states, however, have reopened schools without following that guidance or meeting the CDC case thresholds. Effective last week, Iowa’s K-12 schools are required to offer in-person learning for all students who want to return to the classroom, even though the state has a test-positivity rate of around 13%. Arkansas, Florida, and Texas have also ordered schools to allow students back inside.

Andrew Dunn contributed reporting.

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CDC: Teachers played an ‘important role’ in COVID-19 spread at Georgia elementary schools

teacher classroom coronavirus
A second-grade teacher cleans a desk in her Boston classroom on September 10, 2020.

  • Teachers spread the coronavirus to other staff and students in recent outbreaks in Georgia schools.
  • Inadequate masking and distancing also may have contributed to in-school transmission.
  • Combining multiple prevention strategies is the best way to avoid an outbreak.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

A new investigation has found that teachers were central to COVID-19 transmission in elementary schools.

The findings suggest that prioritizing school staff in the ongoing vaccine rollout could potentially reduce the spread of the virus in schools, allowing for safer reopenings.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigation took place in Cobb County, Georgia, where nine COVID-19 outbreaks occurred at six elementary schools between December 1, 2020, and January 22, 2021. The CDC identified 32 student cases and 13 educator cases across the schools, and at least 18 household contacts of those infected also tested positive.

At least two of the infection clusters began with educator-to-educator spread and continued as teachers exposed students to the virus, the report found. Teachers tested positive in all but one of the clusters.

“In all clusters, educators played an important role in the spread of COVID-19 in the schools,” CDC public affairs specialist Jasmine Reed told Insider in an email. “Although there was COVID-19 spread from student to educator and from student to student, these happened less frequently.”

Teachers shared the virus during lunch and passed it on during class

Although the schools required students and staff to wear masks, some may have spread the coronavirus when they removed their face coverings to eat lunch.

After observing the schools, the investigators determined that transmission between educators likely occurred during in-person meetings or lunches in at least two clusters. The teachers could have then exposed students to the virus in the classroom.

This particular transmission pattern led to half of the student and teacher cases in the two schools in question, the report found.

Inadequate masking and distancing may have also led to infections

If the students had been properly masked and sat at a distance, the spread of the virus within the classroom could have been better contained.

But despite the schools reporting high levels of mask compliance, the CDC investigators learned in interviews that not all students wore their face coverings correctly, and some didn’t wear them at all.

Additionally, students in this district typically sat less than three feet apart with plastic dividers between them. Distancing at six feet apart wasn’t possible given the high turnout and classroom layout, but experts have told Insider that partitions alone aren’t enough to stop the spread of the tiniest virus-laden droplets.

Students also ate lunch in these classrooms, so it’s possible that some student-to-student transmission could have taken place during that unmasked period.

Multiple layers of precaution can help prevent outbreaks

Past CDC investigations have found that it is possible to avoid and mitigate COVID-19 outbreaks with simple preventive measures.

Overnight camps in Maine managed to nip potential outbreaks in the bud by screening campers and counselors upon arrival this summer. Although two staff members and one camper tested positive, the camps saw no secondary transmission and enjoyed a near-normal summer.

The camps combined multiple strategies including early identification and isolation, quarantining, masking, physical distancing, and cohorting campers in small groups. 

A similarly multi-layered approach was also effective in childcare settings, according to a Pediatrics study published in December.

“It’s like a piece of Swiss cheese,” Laura Blaisdell, lead author of the Maine report, previously told Insider. “Every layer has a limitation, and it’s the putting of the layers on top of each other that allows us to cover up those holes.”

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Biden describes closed schools and women leaving the workforce as ‘a national emergency’

Joe biden
President Joe Biden speaks before signing executive orders on his first day in White House on January 21, 2021.

  • President Biden described school closures and women leaving the workforce as “a national emergency.”
  • “I think it’s time for schools to reopen safely,” he said during a CBS interview.
  • Biden voiced concern about the mental health crisis that has been accelerated by the pandemic.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

President Joe Biden said in an interview that aired on Sunday that long-term school closures and women leaving the workforce during the coronavirus pandemic are “a national emergency.”

While speaking with “CBS Evening News” anchor Norah O’Donnell at the White House, Biden also voiced concern about the mental health crisis that has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

O’Donnell noted that roughly 20 million schoolchildren have been out of the classroom since for almost a year, and a recent CBS News report showed that nearly 3 million women have dropped out of the labor force since last year.

“It is a national emergency,” Biden said of all three issues. “It genuinely is a national emergency.”

When asked if schools should reopen, Biden stressed that they should reopen cautiously.

“I think it’s time for schools to reopen safely,” he said. “Safely. You have to have fewer people in the classroom. You have to have ventilation systems that have been reworked.”

“Our CDC commissioner [Rochelle Walensky] is going to be coming out with science-based judgment, within I think as early as Wednesday as to lay out what the minimum requirements are,” the president added.

Read more: Inside the 7-minute virtual workouts the Biden transition team used to stay connected as staffers prepared to demolish Trump’s policies

Last month, Biden signed an executive order for the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services to devise guidelines to reopen schools safely within his first 100 days in office.

Biden said that he and his staff have had to get a handle on the work left by former President Donald Trump’s administration when it came to the rollout of vaccines.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious-disease expert, said, in order to reach herd immunity, about 75% of Americans will need to be vaccinated.

O’Donnell said CBS News calculated that it would take until the end of 2021 to reach that level at the current vaccination rate of 1.3 million doses a day.

“We can’t wait that long,” Biden said. “One of the disappointments was when we came into office is the circumstance relating to how the administration was handling COVID was even more dire than we thought. We thought that indicated there was a lot more vaccine available, and that didn’t turn out to be the case. That’s why we’ve ramped up everywhere we can.”

He added: “But the idea that this can be done and we can get to herd immunity much before the end of this summer is very difficult.”

Since the pandemic began in the US, nearly 27 million people have been infected and over 463,000 people have died, according to the latest data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

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