After weeks of pushing back against rising public pressure to close schools, New York City finally decides to close Americas largest public school system, which will keep more than a million children at home, as the US enters what health officials are calling a "critical phase" of battling the global COVID-19 pandemic.
The Trump administration is all set to roll out tougher guidelines on Monday as the country hunkers down to curb the coronavirus fallout.
The death toll in the US climbed to more than 60 on Sunday. The White House coronavirus team said it would be unveiling updated guidelines on Monday.
New York mayor Bill de Blasio announced the decision to close New York schools till at least April 20 after more than 24 other states shuttered schools and the local New York community began ratcheting up the pressure this week. Blasio indicated that it’s possible that school closures could last much longer than April and drag on until end of term.
Until now, states which had not shut down schools were encouraged by data that shows COVID-19 hitting older people a lot harder than a relatively younger, healthy population. Public health officials and doctors are not clear about why children don’t seem to be getting very sick.
“I don’t think we know why kids seem to be less affected. I have read about several theories, but I do not think there is strong evidence for any of them as of today”, Danielle Ompad, associate professor of epidemiology at NYU School of Global Public Health, said.
“It’s a very troubling moment, a moment when I’m just distraught at having to take this action, but I became convinced over the course of today that there is no other choice”, Blasio said.
“I’m very, very concerned that we see a rapid spread of this disease, and it’s time to take more dramatic measures.”
Pressure is now mounting to severely limit the functioning of bars and restaurants in New York City.
The New York shutdown will apply to the city’s more than 1,800 public schools. Many private schools have already closed and made arrangements for online learning a little earlier than the public school system reacted.
“Beginning tomorrow, students will not report to school buildings for instruction as we transition to Remote Learning and Regional Enrichment Centers”, the New York City Public Schools announced.
Remote learning launches across all New York public schools on Monday, March 23.
Blasio’s decision came after the Trump administration’s top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said Americans should be prepared to “hunker down”.
“I think Americans should be prepared that they are going to have to hunker down significantly more than we as a country are doing,” Fauci said on television Sunday.
Fauci is the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health.
The New York government’s top concern is now about hospital capacity and availability of ventilators and respiratory equipment as the system braces for a sharp uptick in cases.
Top officials of the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force have been cautioning that older people and those with underlying conditions like diabetes, heart disease, obesity and those who with a history of chemotherapy treatment are at an elevated risk from COVID-19.
Late Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidelines recommending that gatherings of 50 people or more in US be canceled or postponed over the next eight weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic. This does not apply to schools or businesses, CDC said.
The global coronavirus outbreak with roots in China has infected more than 156,000 people and killed more than 5,800.
US President Donald Trump has urged Americans to stop stockpiling groceries as a reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic and asked people to “relax” and “take it easy”, even as locals across the country continue to report empty shelves in leading supermarkets and wholesale stores.
Trump on Sunday struck an upbeat tone on the same day when America’s top infectious diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said the worst effects of the COVID-19 were “still to come”.
“You don’t have to buy so much. Take it easy. Just relax. It will all pass,” Trump said.
“Can you buy a little bit less, please?”
Trump spoke at the White House even as Americans continue to be stunned by the sudden shortage of canned food, bread, pasta, meat and other essential edibles in their neighbourhood markets.
“There’s no shortages. We have no shortages other than people are buying anywhere from three to five times what they would normally buy,” Trump said.
The President said he spoke with the chiefs of America’s leading grocery stores and they assured him they are stocking up more than they would during the Christmas season.
Trump’s comments came a day before his administration announces “advanced guidelines” on Monday on containment and mitigation strategies against the pandemic.
“You’re going to be hearing more about advanced guidelines and more precise instructions of how we could implement this mitigation within the community,” Fauci said.
He said the US was at a “very critical point” in the battle to flatten the curve of the COVID-19 spread.
“Now, if you look at the curves that I’ve described multiple, multiple times, this window that we’re in is going to be very important for us to stay ahead of this curve,” Fauci warned.
In the same briefing, Trump praised the US Federal Reserve which took emergency economic measures on Sunday slashing its benchmark interest rate to zero and committing to buy $700 billion in treasury and mortgage bonds.
Trump reassured Americans that he is using the “full power of the federal government” to defeat the coronavirus”.
“We will do whatever it takes and we’re doing really, really well,” he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has killed more than 60 Americans and more than 5,800 people worldwide.
Over 156,000 people have been infected globally.
Speaking about the danger of the virus, Trump described its potency as “incredible”. (IANS)