Fewer than eight months ago, the U.S. had yet to experience its first confirmed case of a deadly disease that was sweeping through China and threatening to go global. Today, more than 6 million Americans have been infected with the coronavirus and some 183,000 have died from it, according to a tally maintained by Johns Hopkins University.
And while 6 million is the number of confirmed cases in the U.S., experts warn that it is an undercount. Epidemiologists said tens of millions more cases have not been recorded. In June, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Robert Redfield, estimated that for every case reported, there were 10 other infections.
Although the numbers of COVID-19 deaths each day have declined slightly in recent weeks, the U.S. continues to see about 42,000 new cases daily. Several states, including Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota and Hawaii, have reported a surge in new cases in recent days.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, said the numbers are concerning.
"August should have been a slow month. We should have seen infection levels come down in July and August. They didn't. We saw an epidemic cross over the Sun Belt, and we saw infections actually increase," he told CBS' Face the Nation on Sunday.
Still, he said there are some positive trends: a decline in case numbers and hospitalizations.
But Gottlieb warned that the months ahead will be challenging: "As we head into September and October, kids back to school, people start to return to work, we're likely to see infections start to go up again."
Ivanka Trump was dressed to impress as she stepped out of her Washington, D.C. home on Thursday morning and took her nine-year-old daughter Arabella to school for the first time since the COVID-19 closures.
The 38-year-old White House senior adviser looked ready for fall in a $1,295 tan and red wrap coat by Gabriela Hearst, which she wore over a matching turtleneck and red pants.
Arabella, who made her first appearance at one of her grandfather's MAGA rallies on Tuesday night, was dressed in a school uniform: a white blouse with a Peter Pan collar, a navy blue jumper, and Mary Janes.
Both mother and daughter wore fabric face masks that matched their outfits, with Ivanka sporting a leopard print and Arabella opting for a playful blue Star Wars-themed one.
When the Covid-19 pandemic forced the closure of most U.S. schools in the spring, students were thrown into new and unfamiliar ways of learning. Special education students and children learning English lost support that their schools struggled to provide online. Many students had no access to computers or the internet and were completely cut off from their teachers.
The true toll these disruptions have taken on student learning won’t be known for months or years, but new reports from national education-testing organizations have begun to offer an early look at that impact.
The latest is a report from NWEA, formerly the Northwest Evaluation Association, which analyzed the results of tests given to nearly 4.4 million U.S. students in grades three through eight this fall and found that most fell short in math, scoring an average of 5 to 10 percentile points behind students who took the same test last year.
While a majority of students did better than expected in reading — scoring at levels similar to typical nonpandemic years — this wasn’t true for Black and Hispanic students and those who attend high-poverty schools. Those groups of students saw slight declines, suggesting the pandemic has exacerbated long-standing educational disparities, possibly setting children who were already behind their white and more affluent peers even further behind.
“It's a reason for concern and it’s a reason to really focus our attention on helping catch kids up,” said Megan Kuhfeld, an NWEA senior research scientist and the lead author of the study.
Kuhfeld and her colleagues analyzed scores from NWEA’s MAP Growth assessments, which thousands of U.S. schools give to students multiple times a year to track their progress in math and reading. They found evidence that pandemic-related school closings have robbed some vulnerable students of important skills that could hamper their progress unless their parents and teachers act quickly to help them catch up.
“They could fall further and further behind if they have holes in their learning,” Kuhfeld said, noting that, for example, it’s hard to learn to multiply fractions if you haven’t mastered adding and subtracting them.
In light of new data, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday relaxed its physical distancing guidelines for children in schools to recommend most students maintain at least 3 feet of distance. It had previously said schools should try to maintain at least 6 feet of distance between children.
The agency released three new studies on Friday that it says support distancing of 3 feet between students, so long as everyone is wearing a mask and other prevention measures are in place. Another study recently published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases found there was no difference in Covid-19 rates between Massachusetts schools that mandated 3 feet of physical distance compared with 6 feet.
But this only works if schools are taking other steps, too, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a White House Covid-19 briefing on Friday.
"These include universal and correct use of masks, physical distancing, hand washing and respiratory etiquette, cleaning to maintain healthy facilities and diagnostic testing with rapid and efficient contact tracing in combination with isolation in quarantine and in collaboration with local health departments," Walensky said.
K-12 School Operational Strategy Updated Mar. 19, 2021
Revised physical distancing recommendations to reflect at least 3 feet between students in classrooms and provide clearer guidance when a greater distance (such as 6 feet) is recommended. Clarified that ventilation is a component of strategies to clean and maintain healthy facilities. Removed recommendation for physical barriers. Clarified the role of community transmission levels in decision-making. Added guidance on interventions when clusters occur.
Key Points Evidence suggests that many K-12 schools that have strictly implemented prevention strategies have been able to safely open for in-person instruction and remain open. CDC’s K-12 operational strategy presents a pathway for schools to provide in-person instruction safely through consistent use of prevention strategies, including universal and correct use of masks and physical distancing. All schools should implement and layer prevention strategies and should prioritize universal and correct use of masks and physical distancing. Testing to identify individuals with SARS-CoV-2 infection and vaccination for teachers and staff provide additional layers of COVID-19 protection in schools.
The number of children contracting COVID-19 in the U.S. is much lower than the record highs set at the start of the new year, but children now account for more than a fifth of new coronavirus cases in states that release data by age, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. It's a statistic that may surprise many: Just one year ago, child COVID-19 cases made up only around 3% of the U.S. total.
On Monday, the AAP said children represented 22.4% of new cases reported in the past week, accounting for 71,649 out of 319,601 cases. The latest report, drawn from data collected through April 29, illustrates how children's share of coronavirus infections has grown in recent weeks.
Experts link the trend to several factors – particularly high vaccination rates among older Americans. The U.S. recently announced 100 million people were fully vaccinated against COVID-19. But other dynamics are also in play, from new COVID-19 variants to the loosening of restrictions on school activities.
It's also worth noting that for the vast majority of the pandemic, the age group with the highest case rates has been 18 to 24 in the U.S., as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes.
To get a sense of what's behind the rising proportion of cases in children, we spoke to Dr. Sean O'Leary, vice chair of the AAP's Committee on Infectious Diseases. O'Leary is also a professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado Medical Campus and Children's Hospital Colorado.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Does it surprise you, the kind of numbers we're seeing for children right now?
Well, yes and no. I think there are several things going on. One, of course, are the new variants that are circulating. This B.1.1.7 variant that's really becoming dominant in a lot of the country is more transmissible. I think the jury is still a bit out on if it's more severe. It's not clear if it's particularly more transmissible in kids. But at this point, it appears it's just more transmissible in everyone, including kids.
Certainly, vaccination is playing a role in terms of the changing in the demographics of who's getting infected.
In many parts of the country, depending on how states track their data — 60 and older, 65 and older, 70 and older — very high proportions of those populations in some places have been vaccinated.
We've seen a dramatic drop in the proportion of cases that are happening in those individuals, which is great news. But that, just by simple math, is going to change the proportion of cases that are happening in the other demographics.
In terms of raw numbers, the worst stretch of coronavirus infections for children was in a 13-week stretch from early November to February. The numbers fell as the U.S. exited its end-of-year wave. But since around mid-March, child coronavirus cases have not fallen at the same rate as adult cases.
We are seeing more outbreaks than we had related to school and school activities. We've seen those all along, and we're seeing a little bit more of those now proportionately than we had. And I think that's also due to a combination of factors. Again, the variants, but also more kids in the last couple of months are in in-person school than they had been in prior months.
With mitigation measures in place in school, it still appears that transmission is much lower than it is in the surrounding community. But when you have a surge in the surrounding community, it's inevitable that you're going to see it in schools.
The other thing that we've seen is more outbreaks in school-related activities, particularly sports and indoor sports in particular.