U.S. CDC recommends schools reopen with universal masking and other rigid health protocols

By Gabriella Borter and Jarrett Renshaw

(Reuters) – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday issued new guidance for U.S. schools to reopen, recommending universal mask-wearing and physical distancing as key mitigation strategies to getting children back in the classroom.

The guidelines, which also emphasize the need for facility-cleaning, personal hygiene and contact tracing, are intended to give school districts a road map to bring the nation’s 55 million public school students back to classrooms without sparking COVID-19 outbreaks.

“We believe with the strategies we have put forward that there will be limited to no transmission in schools if followed,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told reporters, noting that the CDC was not mandating that schools reopen.

The agency also said school reopenings should not be conditional on teachers’ access to COVID-19 vaccines, but strongly recommended U.S. states prioritize teachers and school staff for vaccination.

School reopenings have been the focus of labor disputes between teachers unions and their districts in major U.S. cities. In Chicago this week, after months of negotiations that included threats of a lock-out and strike, the teachers union and district reached agreement on a safety plan.

President Joe Biden promised to reopen most schools within 100 days of taking office on Jan. 20. On Sunday, he said the problems arising from the continued closure of schools, including children’s mental health struggles and the exodus of parents from the workforce, have amounted to a national emergency.

Just 44% of U.S. school districts were offering fully in-person learning as of December and 31% were operating all remotely, according to the Center for Reinventing Public Education, which surveyed 477 of the nation’s nearly 13,000 school districts. Other districts have employed a hybrid learning model where students attend some school days in-person and some virtually.

The CDC’s phased mitigation strategy is intended to be flexible depending on the level of COVID-19 transmission in a school’s community.

In areas where the COVID-19 positive test rate is below 5% and there are fewer than nine new cases per 100,000 in the last seven days, schools can fully reopen and safely relax social distancing measures as long as masks are worn, Walensky said. In areas of high transmission, the agency is urging 6 feet of separation in classrooms and weekly testing of students, teachers and staff.

Recent studies have shown that in-person learning has not been associated with increased community transmission, especially in elementary schools, the CDC guidance noted.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in Boca Raton, Florida, Jarrett Renshaw in Philadelphia and Trevor Hunnicutt in Washington; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, David Gregorio and Matthew Lewis)

With reopenings in U.S. South, some merchants lay out welcome mat, others fearful

By Ann Saphir and Lindsay Dunsmuir

(Reuters) – Angie Bullman plans to reopen her suburban Atlanta hair salon on Friday after closing a month ago to comply with state orders. She and her co-owner husband, also a stylist, are already fully booked for the weekend.

Salon de la Vie’s five other stylists, massage therapist and esthetician will come back to work on May 1, when the state’s stay-at-home order will lift.

“We got to get back to work,” Bullman said. “I am just not all that freaked out about it.”

Georgia is among a handful of states that will allow more businesses to reopen beginning this week and next. The state’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, gave the green light to gyms, hair salons, bowling alleys, tattoo and massage parlors to restart on Friday, followed by movie theaters and restaurants next week. It is not clear how quickly businesses will jump at the chance to reopen.

White House guidelines say states should wait until new cases are on the decline before reopening. The virus has killed more than 45,000 people in the United States, more than any other country.

But Kemp and other governors are keen to get their economies rolling again, which would bring in income and sales taxes, the main revenue sources for most states. The lockdown has decimated state budgets, and the latest federal government coronavirus aid bill, set to be passed this week, does not include new money for state and local governments in part because Trump administration officials and some Republicans were concerned it could deter them from reopening.

Georgia has fewer coronavirus cases and deaths per capita than the national average, but one of the lowest rates of testing. Even so, cases have been on the rise, with 1,242 new infections detected over the prior 24 hours, the highest single-day tally in two weeks.

Bullman is unruffled and said while she will wear a mask, she will not require her customers to do so. She said her salon is housed in a 4,000-square-foot building with tall ceilings and plenty of ventilation, and can easily space customers out.

“I just don’t think our environment is high risk,” she said, of both her salon and community.


Just because governors want their economies to restart does not mean they will switch on like a light. Some business owners are fearful, and customers may be too, about their health or about spending during the steepest economic downturn in 90 years.

Shonda King runs Gifted Creations hair salon in Midway, near Georgia’s Atlantic coast, with her daughter. Before the crisis, they were fully booked with a largely African-American clientele. The salon has been closed since late March and King has been living off savings.

Even so, King will not be reopening on Friday.

“The governor is saying, You can go back to work. But at the risk of losing your life? People are walking around with Covid and they don’t even know it,” she said, referring to the respiratory disease caused by the virus. “Why should we put our lives on the line to go out and style hair?”

King said it would be impossible for her to comply with social distancing requirements. “There is no way you can stay six feet apart – my arms aren’t even six feet long!” King said. She hopes to reopen in May, but only once the number of cases in her area are falling.

Steve Pitts, 53, general manager of Manuel’s Tavern, a popular fixture just east of midtown Atlanta for more than six decades, is in the same camp as King.

“It’s still too dangerous,” Pitts said. “Even with protection, you’d still be breathing the same air for hours. We need to listen to the scientists and epidemiologists and not the politicians.”

Pitts said as soon as Kemp announced plans to reopen restaurants for dine-in service starting Monday, his phone started “blowing up.”

“I started fielding concerns from the staff, some have been here for 25 years, one since ’78. They’re in their 50s and 60s. Our concern is for them and for our customers.”


In South Carolina, the state’s Republican governor, Henry McMaster, began to ease restrictions on Monday, just two weeks after imposing a stay-at-home order. Businesses that may reopen are limited mostly to department stores, and furniture, clothing, shoe and jewelry stores. There are strict limits on the number of customers allowed in each store.

Chuck Dawson is relieved to be back in business. In the two weeks his six furniture and mattress stores, J&K Home Furnishings, located along the state’s coastal Grand Strand, were essentially closed, revenue was down 90%.

“I don’t think he’s done it too early. He’s not opened bowling alleys or gyms,” Dawson said of the governor’s actions. “We are definitely seeing customers. It’s a nice start and an appropriate one.”

For now he is limiting how many of his 56 employees are on site. On Tuesday, he had five employees in his largest store, compared with the usual 15 to 18. All those whose jobs may be done from home can do so, he said. He has masks and wipes for customers.

South Carolina has more than 4,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and rising.

Dawson does not think business will be booming any time soon. He hopes to be up to 50% of normal revenue for the month of May, but does not see returning to pre-crisis levels until at least October.

“People are scared and pulling back. They’re scared to come out,” he said.

(Reporting by Lindsay Dunsmuir and Ann Saphir; Additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Dan Burns and Leslie Adler)

Trump suggests U.S. states re-open economies in three phases in new guidelines

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Parts of President Donald Trump’s guidelines for re-opening the U.S. economy amid the coronavirus pandemic trickled out on Thursday afternoon, revealing a three-phase plan that could allow some states to begin as early as this month lifting limits meant to contain the disease’s spread.

In the first phase of Trump’s guidelines, to be publicly unveiled on Thursday evening, larger venues like restaurants and movie theaters could operate again with strict social distancing, according to a copy seen by Reuters. Non-essential travel could resume and schools could open their doors again in phase two. In phase three medically vulnerable people could resume public interactions.

The New York Times reported that Trump told governors of states that some could re-open their states by May 1 or earlier. He was also expected to soon announce hiring plans for tracking the disease’s spread, according to the Times.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason, Eric Beech, Lisa Lambert and Tim Ahmann; Editing by Chris Reese)

U.S. coronavirus deaths march higher to over 31,000: Reuters tally

By Lisa Shumaker

(Reuters) – U.S. coronavirus deaths rose above 31,000 on Thursday, according to a Reuters tally, as President Donald Trump prepares to announce guidelines for reopening the economy.

The United States is the world’s worst-affected country with fatalities doubling in just a week and setting a record single-day increase for two days in a row.

The governors of Connecticut, Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania began cautiously preparing Americans for a post-virus life where residents wear face masks as they emerge from isolation in the coming weeks.

The U.S. shutdown has crushed the nation’s economy to levels not seen since the Great Depression nearly a century ago as more than 20 million Americans have sought unemployment benefits amid shuttered stores and restaurants.

U.S. cases totaled over 635,000 and rose by 30,000 on Wednesday, the biggest increase in five days, according to the Reuters tally.

GRAPHIC: Tracking the novel coronavirus in the U.S. https://tmsnrt.rs/2w7hX9T

(Writing by Lisa Shumaker; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Judge rules for Trump administration in suit over family-planning program shift

FILE PHOTO: Healthcare activists with Planned Parenthood and the Center for American Progress protest in opposition to the Senate Republican healthcare bill on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 28, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

By Brendan O’Brien

(Reuters) – A federal judge ruled on Monday against birth control organizations that sought to block the Trump administration from shifting a federal family-planning grant program toward prioritizing groups that are faith-based and counsel abstinence.

Three planned Parenthood organizations along with the National Family Planning Reproductive Health Association filed lawsuits, which were later combined, in May challenging guidelines the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued in February.

Those guidelines set forth new criteria for how the department under Republican President Donald Trump would assess applications for grants under the Title X family planning program. The grants are expected to total $260 million.

The organizations objected to the criteria’s focus on abstinence, easier access to primary health care, increasing family participation and cooperation with faith-based organizations, according to the ruling.

The organizations argued that the changes require a notice and comment rule-making process, violate the Title X law and were “arbitrary and capricious.”

United States District Court Judge Trevor McFadden, who was appointed by Trump in 2017, said in his ruling that “courts cannot review substantive objections to a non-final agency action, nor can they require formal rulemaking for a change in agency procedure.”

McFadden also said that if he could rule on the merits of the case, the government’s changes align with program’s commitment to support “voluntary family projects … offering a broad range of acceptable and effective family planning methods and services.”

Vice President Mike Pence, a former Indiana governor and strident opponent of abortion, has pushed Congress to defund Planned Parenthood. The non-profit’s clinics provide contraception, health screenings and abortions.

“The Trump-Pence administration is trying to impose its ideology on people – no matter how many it hurts,” Dawn Laguens, Executive Vice President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement on Monday, adding that the ruling could effect the health care of four million people.

Planned Parenthood health centers serve more than 40 percent of patients receiving care subsidized by Title X.

HHS could not be reached for comment.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Darren Schuettler)