BOSTON (AP) — A statewide coalition of teachers, school nurses, parents and other school employees has released a list of issues it says need to be addressed before Massachusetts schools can safely reopen during the coronavirus pandemic.
The recently formed Coalition to Safely Reopen Schools in a statement this week called for a phased approach to reopening, with no in-person learning unless and until those issues are resolved.
Some of the measures the group seeks include appropriate social distancing guidelines, effective ventilation and air circulation in all schools, safe cleaning practices, accessible and rapid COVID-19 testing, and clear guidelines for contact tracing.
"Ours is a frontline perspective from those who will be ultimately responsible for the health, safety and the quality of education students will receive as a result of these decisions," the coalition said in its statement.
Most Massachusetts school districts are planning hybrid model of in-person and remote learning when schools reopen this month, although several of the largest districts in the state are starting fully remote.
The organizations that have endorsed the document include the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Nurses Association, and the Service Employees International Union.
Virus By The Numbers
Massachusetts reported 22 newly confirmed coronavirus deaths and nearly 300 newly confirmed cases Wednesday, pushing the state's confirmed COVID-19 death toll to more than 8,850 and its confirmed caseload to more than 119,400.
The seven-day weighted average of positive tests was 1%. The true number of cases is likely higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.
There were more than 300 people reported hospitalized Wednesday because of COVID-19, and nearly 60 in intensive care units.
The number of confirmed and probable COVID-19 related deaths at long-term care homes rose to more than 5,800 or about 64% of all confirmed and probable deaths in Massachusetts attributed to the disease.
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee want to intervene in a lawsuit by the American Federation of Teachers challenging New Hampshire’s voting procedures during the coronavirus pandemic.
New Hampshire Public Radio reports the union sued to force New Hampshire to extend its deadline for accepting absentee ballots by mail; to cover absentee ballot postage costs; to allow wider use of absentee ballot dropboxes; and to permit third-party groups to return absentee ballots on voters’ behalf. Similar lawsuits have been filed in other states.
The lawsuit is focused on the November election. The AFT says the changes are necessary to ensure as many people as possible can safely participate.
State officials say changing the rules now would only create more problems.
“What the plaintiffs want in this case is judicial rewriting of most or a substantial portion of our absentee ballot laws,” Assistant Attorney General Anthony Galdieri told a judge during a virtual hearing Tuesday. “And the state has exceptional concerns that that’s going to create voter confusion, it’s going to create election official confusion and it has the potential to result in the disenfranchisement of voters.”
In New Hampshire, absentee ballots sent by mail must arrive by 5 p.m. on Election Day to be counted.
As of Wednesday, 7,309 people had tested positive for the virus in New Hampshire, an increase of 15 from the previous day. The number of deaths remained at 432. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in New Hampshire decreased over the past two weeks, going from 22 new cases per day on Aug. 18 to 21 new cases per day on Sept. 1.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia or death.
AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Democratic Gov. Janet Mills on Wednesday extended a state of emergency for a sixth time during the pandemic.
In a statement, Mills urged Mainers not to let “pandemic fatigue” allow them to become complacent, especially as students are returning to schools and universities across the state.
"The outbreaks which we hear about in other states every day can sometimes feel far away from the relative safety of our state, but recent events prove that one little match can spark a fire that may be very difficult to put out,” she said, referring to outbreaks associated with a recent wedding in the Katahdin region.
A state of civil emergency allows Maine to draw down critical federal resources and to deploy all available tools to contain COVID-19. They're issued in 30-day increments.
In other coronavirus-related news:
Another 26 Mainers tested positive for the coronavirus and one person died from COVID-19 complications, the Maine Center for Disease Control reported Wednesday.
All told, the number of people who have tested positive in Maine stands at 4,567, while the number of COVID-19 patients who have died in Maine grew to 133, the Maine CDC reported.
Gov. Janet Mills is giving state government agencies more time to submit plans about how to reduce spending in the state’s next two-year budget.
An executive order issued Monday pushes the deadline from Sept. 1 to Oct. 19 in hopes that Congress will deliver additional aid to states whose economies have been walloped by the pandemic.
Maine is facing an estimated revenue shortfall of more than $520 million in the current fiscal year, which will end on June 30, 2021. The total estimated revenue shortfall over the next three years is $1.3 billion.
High School Sports
A letter from state officials to the Maine Principals' Association is dimming hopes for a quick resolution to fall high school sports.
Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew and Education Commissioner Pender Makin urged the organization to delay the season until safety guidelines can be reviewed further.
In the letter, they said their concerns go beyond the students participating in sports to the communities.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island is setting up a quick and efficient contact tracing program for the state's schools for the inevitable COVID-19 cases that crop up when children return to the classroom later this month, Gov. Gina Raimondo said Wednesday.
The dedicated school contact tracing system will initially be staffed with 50 people, but more may may added as needed, the Democratic governor said at a news conference.
“We can’t stop the positive cases," she said. “What we can do is quickly identify the positive cases, put our systems into action, do our contact tracing, quarantine all the close contacts to prevent outbreaks, and to allow for a smooth operation of school,” she said.
The state is prepared to go so far as to shut down a school if there is a widespread outbreak, she said.
Under the program, when a student, teacher or other staffer tests positive, the contact tracers will reach out to everyone that person was in close contact with. People who were in close contact with a positive case will have to quarantine for 14 days, and if they are students, will move to remote learning.
The close contacts will be monitored for symptoms and tested, Raimondo said.
Every school in the state will have a staff member who will act as a liaison to assist the Department of Health investigators and contact tracers.
The state will use the lessons it has learned tracing cases at summer camps and at the state's 700 open child care centers, said Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the Department of Health.
There were very few instances of secondary spread at the state's summer camps and child care centers, she said.
“Our experience with child care makes clear that when a facility takes a thoughtful, comprehensive approach to prevention ... the chances of us seeing new cases at that site are greatly minimized," she said.
Most of the state's schools have been cleared to resume full in-person lessons on Sept. 14.
Three employees of the contractor that runs a Rhode Island state campground are temporarily off the job after one of them tested positive for the coronavirus, according to statement Wednesday from the state Department of Environmental Management.
The employee who tested positive is part of a team that cleans restrooms at Burlingame State Campground in Charlestown from 3 p.m. until 11 p.m. Because restrooms are closed while being cleaned, the staff has little interaction with public.
The workers also wear gloves and masks.
The worker, who learned of the positive test result on Monday, worked four days while symptomatic, last working Sunday, the department said.
The employee’s coworkers were tested Tuesday and will remain out of work until the results come back.
The state's campgrounds reopened June 30 at limited capacity. At Burlingame, the state’s largest campground, the state reduced capacity by 15%, closing 106 campsites out of 720.
Virus By The Numbers
The state Department of Health on Wednesday reported 53 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state and one additional coronavirus-related fatality.
There have now been nearly 22,100 confirmed cases and 1,051 deaths in the state.
The number of people in the hospital with the disease as of Monday, the latest day for which the information is available, was 78, down from 82 the previous day. Eight of those hospitalized were in intensive care.
The seven-day rolling average of the positivity rate in Rhode Island dropped over the past two weeks, from 2.27% on Aug. 18 to 1.23% on Tuesday, according to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering.
The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Rhode Island has fallen slightly over the past two weeks, and was 90 new cases per day on Tuesday, according to the Johns Hopkins statistics.