News Scan for Dec 16, 2020

News brief

Survey: 2 of 10 school districts mulling keeping e-learning after COVID-19

About 2 in 10 US school districts have said they will continue, or are considering continuing, distance learning after the COVID-19 pandemic ends, citing student and parent demand, according to a Rand Corporation study released yesterday.

In the fall, administrators on the new American School District Panel (ASDP) said that the biggest challenges facing them in the 2020-21 school year were disparities in students' access to learning opportunities during the pandemic. Rand, the Center on Reinventing Public Education, Chiefs for Change, and Kitamba developed the ASDP, a nationally representative panel of US traditional school districts and charter management organizations, to help inform school policy and practice.

Of the 379 panelists, 319 completed the survey. The resulting report said localized approaches to education and pandemic-related issues, as well as differences in community COVID-19 case rates, factored into the decision whether to continue the online learning option.

While districts in which at least 50% of students are black or Hispanic or qualify for free or reduced-cost lunch said Internet and technology access are the greatest needs for online learning, those in the remaining districts reported student mental health and high-quality instruction (due to funding-related understaffing) as the most critical needs.

"We found three common concerns: disparities in students' opportunities to learn, students' social and emotional learning needs, and insufficient funding to cover staff," lead author Heather Schwartz, PhD, said in a Rand news release. "But just as reopening plans differ based on local approaches to both schooling and the pandemic, district leaders' opinions differed on the degree to which they prioritized these needs and concerns."

School district administrators said that state and local health departments had the most influence on their COVID-19 plans, followed by the US Department of Education.

"Public education will never be the same post–COVID-19," a superintendent of a large suburban school district said in the survey. "The pandemic has forced public education to adopt new practices on the fly, and many will become lasting changes to the way we do business. Flexible scheduling and virtual instruction are just two practices that will become a part of how we educate children."
Dec 15 Rand Corp study and news release


Close contacts, gatherings may increase kids' COVID-19 risk

Data from a University of Mississippi Medical Center study published yesterday in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) show that social gatherings and close contacts with other infected people are associated with a higher risk of COVID-19 infections in children and adolescents, but not attending school or child care.

Researchers compared parent- or guardian-reported exposures of 154 SARS-CoV-2–positive children and adolescents under age 18 with 243 SARS-CoV-2–negative children—all of whom were tested at outpatient testing centers or emergency departments associated with the University of Mississippi Medical Center from Sep 1 to Nov 5.

In the 2 weeks before testing, SARS-CoV-2–positive children were more likely to have had close contact with a person who had a confirmed infection compared with control participants (odds ratio [OR], 3.2; 95% confidence interval [CI], 2.0 to 5.0). They were also more likely to have attended gatherings with people outside their household, including social functions, activities with other children, and visitors in their home (OR range, 1.9 to 3.3).

Attending in-person school or childcare during the 2 weeks before testing was not associated with greater risk of infection, but exposure data was not broken down by age-group (OR, 0.8; 95% CI, 0.5 to 1.3).

Children who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 were less likely to have reported consistent mask use by students and staff members in their school facility (OR, 0.4; 95% CI, 0.2 to 0.8).

"Consistent use of masks, social distancing, isolation of infected persons, and quarantine of those who are exposed to the virus continue to be important to prevent COVID-19 spread," the authors concluded.
Dec 15 MMWR study


Officials confirm 3 new MERS cases in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Health (MOH) recently reported three new MERS-CoV cases, including two in people who had contact with camels, according two separate notifications.

The country had reported its most recent MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus) case in early November, which involved a 51-year-old man from Riyadh. In a report dated Dec 1, the MOH noted another case in Riyadh, which involved a 62-year-old man who didn't have a history of contact with camels, is not a health worker, and whose source of the virus is listed as primary, meaning it likely didn't contract it from another known patient.

Also, in a Dec 10 report, the MOH noted two cases in different parts of the country, both involving camel contact. One patient is a 53-year-old man from Al Ahsa governorate in the east and the other is a 40-year-old man from Taif governorate in the west.

The World Health Organization (WHO) Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office (EMRO) said that, as of the end of November, the WHO has received reports of 2,562 cases, including 881 deaths, since the virus was first detected in humans in 2012.
Dec 1 Saudi MOH update
Dec 10 Saudi MOH update

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