Florida teachers sue over school reopenings as US COVID-19 cases mount

Students and teacher wearing masks in classroom
Students and teacher wearing masks in classroom

Halfpoint / iStock

Today teachers unions and parents in Florida sued Governor Ron DeSantis over his emergency order that schools reopen fully in August despite the state's surging coronavirus cases and deaths, the New York Times reported.

In the first known suit of its kind in the United States, the plaintiffs accused DeSantis of breaking a state law mandating "safe" and "secure" schools and asked the court to give jurisdiction over reopening to local school superintendents and health departments.

The positive testing rate in Florida rose to 14.7%, the highest in a week, up from 5% in May. Public health experts have urged school districts to delay in-person schooling if their region has a positive testing rate higher than 5%.

Today, Florida recorded another 10,347 COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 360,394, as well as 92 more deaths, for a total of 5,183, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel. At least 2,400 deaths (46.3%) have occurred in long-term care facilities.

While today's death count did not approach the Jul 16 record of 156, it did continue an upward trajectory indicating that deaths are gaining on numbers of new daily cases. There were 9,475 hospitalized patients today, up from 9,351 yesterday, pushing capacities to the brink, with the highest numbers in Miami-Dade County, followed by Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Cases set records in 4 states

Today, the US COVID-19 case total rose to 3,804,907, including 140,811 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus tracker. Yesterday, the weekly average for new daily coronavirus cases climbed for the 41st day in a row, with Kentucky, Louisiana, Oregon, and South Carolina all setting single-day records, the Washington Post reported.

Yesterday, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that his state is "headed in the wrong direction" and "could become Florida," adding that he may mandate more public health measures this week to stem the tide, The Hill reported. Ohio has reported 74,932 coronavirus cases, including 3,174 deaths, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

Texas recorded 7,300 new COVID-19 cases and 93 deaths yesterday, the Texas Tribune reported. Of the state's 3,985 total deaths, nearly 20% were posted in the last week alone.

Amid declining approval ratings, President Donald Trump said today that he is reviving daily coronavirus press briefings, which he had stopped in April, according to the New York Times, which called the move "a tacit acknowledgment" that the country's COVID-19 crisis is still raging. The first one will probably be held tomorrow, Trump said.

High food stamp enrollments

More than 6 million Americans enrolled in the US food stamp program in the first 3 months of the pandemic, a record that is likely to rise as unemployed people run out of savings, the New York Times reported. The food stamp program grew 17%, roughly three times faster than in any previous 3-month period, with caseloads growing in all but one of 42 states with available data.

To keep families afloat amid a flagging economy, Congress returned to session today to work on new agreements that would extend aid to the 25 million Americans about to be affected by the upcoming end to enhanced $600 weekly federal unemployment benefits, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Lining up for vaccine trials

About 107,000 Americans have signed up to test COVID-19 vaccines, forming 89% of the pool of 120,000 needed, USA Today reported. At least 30,000 volunteers are needed for each of the four companies planning to conduct phase 3 clinical trials on their candidate vaccines by fall.

Two candidate coronavirus vaccines from Oxford University and CanSino have generated immune responses in hundreds of people without serious side effects, studies published today in The Lancet have found (see related CIDRAP News story today). They join a third candidate vaccine from Moderna in moving toward phase 3 trials.

Late last week, in order to increase testing capacity, the Food and Drug Administration reissued an emergency use authorization allowing Quest Diagnostics to test pooled samples of as many as four specimens with its COVID-19 diagnostic test, the first such test to be allowed for pooled samples. But Politico reported that public health experts have expressed doubt that the strategy will work as well as it has in other countries because the virus is so widespread in the United States and because pooling can reduce tests' sensitivity.

Return-to-work and airborne spread

After the World Health Organization's recent acknowledgment that the coronavirus can spread via lingering airborne respiratory droplets in addition to through large respiratory droplets that could contaminate surfaces, some companies are questioning whether US government back-to-work guidance goes far enough to address this mode of transmission, according to Reuters.

Specifically, they are asking public health authorities whether keeping employees at least 6 feet apart, mandating face coverings, sealing off conference rooms, erecting plexiglass barriers, and upgrading ventilations systems will adequately protect both workers and customers.

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