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Coronavirus Europe: Schools prepare for winter with open windows

With temperatures in Germany frequently dropping to freezing, children in the city of Bochum are bracing for a crisp learning environment as officials advise teachers to open the windows for fresh air every 20 minutes. Children have been told to bring blankets and wrap up.

Critics have called the advice a threat to the health of students, with Finn Wandhoff, chairman of the Student Union of Germany, accusing the government of failing the education system by not opting for online learning.

In Scotland, where First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says keeping schools open is a priority, Edinburgh’s chief education officer, Andy Gray, wrote a letter to parents urging them to ensure that their children wear extra layers of clothing when they return to school on Oct. 26 after a midterm break, local media reported.

In guidance issued in August, the Scottish government said: “The opening of doors and windows, where it is safe to do so, should be encouraged to increase natural ventilation and also to reduce contact with door handles.”

British health expert Susan Michie pointed out that many schools have windows that do not open and, therefore, need government funding to boost ventilation.

“I think also pupils will have to get used to — and staff — coming in wearing more clothes,” Michie said.

Britain remains the worst-hit country in Europe, with almost 43,000 lives lost to the coronavirus.

Pablo del Pozo, a music teacher in Spain’s southern Cádiz province, told El Pais newspaper that students were being forced to sit by wet window sills during lessons, leading to complaints.

“We are being told that it’s better for a child to catch pneumonia than covid-19,” he said.

Although some schools struggle with the advice that the cold air needs to be brought in, schools in Denmark and other Nordic education systems are taking lessons — and young students — outside.

More than half of about 200 Norwegian schools surveyed in a poll by researchers Ulrich Dettweiler and Gabriele Lauterbach last month said they were holding more classes outdoors — a move some already had planned on that was further propelled by the pandemic.

At Samso Frie Skole, a private school on the Danish island of Samso, young children bike or walk to a nearby forest, where they sit on logs to study and shelter in farmhouses from bad weather.

Being outdoors, staff members say, has had positive effects on many of the students, who use stones to work out during physical-education classes and hunch over crawling insects during biodiversity lessons.

But in the United States, the debate isn’t just about the weather.

Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls to open windows and doors for fresh air to flow through classrooms, teachers say they must tread a fine line between protecting students from the global health crisis and from the threat of a school shooting.

“Do I keep my classroom door open to improve air circulation or close it to protect my students from an active shooter?

US In A ‘Bad Place’ As COVID-19 Cases Surge Heading Into Winter


  • Fauci said the U.S. is “in a bad place” as coronavirus cases surge nationwide
  • Thirty-six states see increase in cases as colder fall and winter weather approaches
  • COVID-19 hospitalizations jump by 77% in New York

The U.S. may be “facing a whole lot of trouble” as coronavirus cases continue to skyrocket across the country heading into the cold winter months. 

On Monday, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, appeared on CNBC, saying the U.S. is “in a bad place” as the colder weather begins to settle across the nation. 

“That’s a bad place to be when you’re going into the cooler weather of the fall and the colder weather of the winter,” Fauci said. “We’re in a bad place. Now we’ve got to turn this around.”

Health officials recorded more than 44,600 new COVID-19 on Sunday. The seven-day average also rose to 49,200 new cases per day, which is 14% higher than the previous week. 

A CNBC analysis indicated that average daily cases rose by 5% in 36 states and the District of Columbia. The number of hospitalized coronavirus patients is also up by 5% in 36 states. 

COVID-19 is seeing another surge in New York, with the number of hospitalizations jumping by 77% compared to the same period the previous month. The state’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, said the increase resulted from outbreaks in specific areas, NBC News reported.  

“We’re dealing with a very specific situation which is the clusters,” he said in a news release over the weekend. “Overall the state is doing very well.” 

Idaho, South Dakota, and Wisconsin have the three highest rates of new infections in the nation. According to the latest numbers from John Hopkins University, the U.S. has now reported over 7.8 million coronavirus cases and more than 214,000 virus-related deaths. 

Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, and West Virginia all reported a record single-day increase in cases on Friday.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine said there is no single reason for the rise in cases, but he believes people are not following all the safety measures designed to curb the virus’s spread. 

“We’re sick of wearing masks, we’re sick of all of this, and I get it, but we’ve got to hang in there for our kids. We’ve got to hang in there for ourselves,” DeWine said. “The best way to summarize it, I think, is that people are simply not being cautious. They’re going about their family life and meeting with people.”

A medical worker takes a nasal swab sample from a student to test for COVID-19 in New York City. A medical worker takes a nasal swab sample from a student to test for COVID-19 in New York City. Photo: AFP / Angela Weiss

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Coronavirus could worsen in winter, remain major threat through 2021, Fauci says

FILE - In this April 7, 2020, file photo, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks about the coronavirus in Washington. With New York City at the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. and its native-born among those offering crucial information to the nation in televised briefings, the New York accent has stepped up to the mic. Fauci's science-based way of explaining the crisis at White House briefings has attracted untold numbers of fans, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's news conferences have become must-see TV. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious diseases expert, speaks about the coronavirus on April 7. (Alex Brandon / Associated Press)

The COVID-19 pandemic could worsen in the winter and continue to be a looming threat through much of 2021.

That is the forecast of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious diseases expert, in a wide-ranging discussion about the pandemic that he delivered this week to the Berkeley Forum.

Fauci warned that a sense of normality post-coronavirus may not come to the U.S. until late 2021, adding that the arrival of a vaccine will not suddenly bring the U.S. lurching back. Rather, it’ll be a gradual transition over a long period of time.

Fauci offered analysis at the Thursday forum about where we stand on the pandemic — from the importance of masks to the mistakes made by colleges, the dangers of internet disinformation and the grim toll COVID-19 is taking on nonwhite communities.

Masks may be part of a return to normal for some time

The U.S. faces two problems: The vaccine won’t be 99% effective, and a substantial proportion of Americans have indicated they will not take the inoculation.

“So let’s say you have a 75% effective vaccine, and 65% to 80% of the people want to get vaccinated: You still have a lot of people in society … that are vulnerable to be infected,” Fauci said. That means “we’re going to softly go into a graded degree of normality.”

In this new normal, more types of businesses will be able to reopen. But some pandemic protections may still be needed for a longer period than others.

“Will people have to wear masks? Yes, likely,” Fauci said. “I would imagine that if we get a good vaccine now, that we could have some degree of normality in the third quarter to the fourth quarter of 2021.

“I think ultimately, we will get back to normality as we knew it before this. But … it’s going to be a gradual process, in which the restrictions on things — restaurant numbers, theater attendance, spectators at sports [events] — all of that will come back gradually. But it will come back.”

We could be in for a tough winter

At the moment, the U.S. is still diagnosing about 40,000 new infections of the coronavirus daily — “which is unacceptably high,” Fauci said, as the nation moves into the cooler seasons.

“We’ve got to get that down or otherwise, we’re going to have a very tough winter in the next few months,” Fauci said.

According to the Los Angeles Times’ coronavirus tracker, California has averaged about 3,300 new coronavirus cases a day for the last week — a number that’s still higher than during the initial springtime wave of cases that prompted the state’s first stay-at-home order.

Los Angeles County on Wednesday reported its highest daily count of coronavirus infections since Aug. 22, highlighting the continued dangers of the virus even as more businesses are opening up.

‘Twindemic’ test: Massachusetts, many colleges mandate winter flu shots

“This is a brave new experiment by the state of Massachusetts,” said Lawrence Gostin, who heads a university-based center on health law that serves as an official collaborating institute with the World Health Organization. “If it turns out to be a wholesale success, that should influence other states to go a similar route, not just with flu but with other vaccines. But if it causes a backlash and only marginal benefit, states might be hesitant to adopt that model in the future.”

In New Jersey, Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill in the state Legislature late last month that would mandate flu shots for kids in preschool through college. Vermont public health officials also have been considering a vaccine order of their own.

Early evidence suggests the pandemic is widening a nationwide vaccination gap. Preliminary data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services show vaccination rates for typically given shots dropped by 22 percent this spring compared to last year, among young children enrolled in Medicaid and the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Fewer than 50 percent of adults opt to get vaccinated against the flu in a typical season, a rate CDC Director Robert Redfield hopes to elevate to 65 percent this season.

While states have “the absolute right” under the Constitution to require vaccinations, Gostin said, the stakes are still high for officials who want to expand flu immunity without aggravating anti-vaccine tensions.

“There are a lot of my colleagues, and me included, that worry there’s such large numbers of people in the United States that are vaccine-hesitant or even outright anti-vaxxers, that a mandate might create a vicious backlash not only against influenza vaccines but all vaccines. So, you have to tread very carefully,” said Gostin, director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University.

Before Massachusetts’ move, Gostin found that no state required influenza vaccinations for adults or K-12 students. Only a handful of states require flu shots for kids enrolled in childcare or preschool, according to the Immunization Action Coalition, even though the American Academy of Pediatrics and CDC recommend the vaccine for children older than 6 months.

Supply isn’t the issue. Flu vaccines are inexpensive, easy to find and often effective. But experts say time is running short before the annual flu season accelerates in the Northern Hemisphere.

“Many places have already gotten their supply of vaccines. They just need people to take it,” said Tina Tan, a Chicago pediatrician and infectious disease specialist at Northwestern Medicine. “This month is going to be the critical month to try and implement these types of mandates and get people vaccinated.”

Tan said flu shot requirements for school kids did not catch on before now for two main reasons: Doses are often unavailable when students start classes each school year, plus there are misconceptions that the flu shot is unsafe.

In Massachusetts, the governor has defended the flu shot mandate but acknowledged “some people are troubled” by a sweeping requirement that follows

Hospitals digging in for a long winter as coronavirus patients increase

The rise in the number of infected patients is a far cry from the spring surge. Yet it is increasingly apparent among several hospitals in so-called red zones — communities determined by state health officials to have an elevated risk of coronavirus infections.

At Lowell General Hospital, which counted fewer than a handful of COVID-19 patients most days in August, the daily census is now close to three times that, between 11 and 15 patients, said Dr. Adam Weston, an infectious disease physician.

“The good news is we haven’t seen our numbers dramatically climb upward, but there’s the worry that we have ongoing community spread and that could be a harbinger of additional cases,” Weston said.

Lowell is among roughly 30 cities and towns where state officials determined Wednesday infection rates are too high to allow more business and entertainment venue reopenings.

Like a lot of hospitals, Lowell General was suddenly swamped with COVID-19 patients in March and April and had to halt many other medical tests and surgeries to stay ahead of the surge. But that peak subsided fairly rapidly, and hospitals in the summer had mostly returned to normal operations.

Now, Weston said, his hospital and colleagues in the Wellforce system, which includes Tufts Medical Center in Boston and MelroseWakefield Hospital, believe they will be shouldering an elevated plateau of coronavirus patients for months.

“Many are predicting a less tall, but much longer curve, spread out over a longer period of time,” he said.

“The hope and plan is a co-existing of COVID care and regular hospital care,” he said. “But all plans are fine until they get on the battlefield.”

At Southcoast Health, which includes St. Luke’s Hospital in New Bedford, the number of daily COVID-19 cases has nearly doubled in the last two weeks, from 10 to 18. New Bedford is among the red zone communities.

Jackie Somerville, senior vice president and chief nursing officer for Southcoast Hospitals Group, worries that too many residents are letting their guard down after months of reminders to wear masks and socially distance. The weariness comes as schools are reopening and the weather is cooling. With more activities moved inside, the risk of infection increases.

“We are definitely seeing COVID fatigue in all the communities,” Somerville said. “It’s critical more than ever to be meticulous in terms of using [personal protective gear] inside our hospital and also to be ambassadors for Southcoast to role model what vigilance looks like.”

For the first time, Southcoast is now mandating all employees get flu shots, something many other hospitals did several years ago, to protect patients and workers from spreading that virus. Health leaders say flu shots are imperative this year to avoid concurrent outbreaks of influenza and COVID-19 that could overwhelm the state’s health care system.

“We don’t want to see individuals potentially get both because we don’t know what that will look like,” Somerville said.

At UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, there has also been a slow increase of COVID-19

Spanish ICU Adds Beds for Winter After ‘Terrible Avalanche’ of Patients Earlier This Year | World News

BARAKALDO, Spain (Reuters) – At the Cruces hospital just outside the Spanish city of Bilbao, the sound of power drills and hammers rings out as a construction crew gets to work on a new intensive care ward in preparation for a potential winter surge in COVID-19 cases.

“Winter is going to be a high-risk time for us as more people will be staying at home in enclosed spaces, raising the risk of infection,” said Dr Alberto Martinez Ruiz, the hospital’s head of anaesthesiology and recovery.

During the epidemic’s first peak in March, when the virus spread unchecked through Spain’s population, the hospital struggled to accommodate an unprecedented surge in critically ill patients.

“Our experience of the COVID epidemic was of a terrible avalanche of patients in a short time,” Dr Ruiz recalled. “In March we were admitting up to seven or eight patients a day.”

Irregular spaces like gyms were hastily transformed into wards, rapidly increasing capacity to more than 80 beds from 32.

“From one day to the next they all filled up. That allowed us to save lots of lives,” Dr Ruiz said.

Imposing one of Europe’s toughest lockdowns helped Spain bring down the contagion and gave the health service a chance to regain its footing. But infections have soared since the nationwide confinement ended in mid-June, with cases now rising by more than 10,000 a day.

Spain has logged nearly 770,000 cases, more than anywhere else in Western Europe, and almost 32,000 deaths.

Hospitalizations are on the increase too but the number of severe cases remains far lower than during the first wave and ICUs across the country have plenty of spare capacity for now.

The average age of patients admitted to Cruces is now between 60-65, around 10 years lower than during the first wave.

“Patients are being admitted earlier than expected but in a much more staggered fashion,” Dr Fermin Labayan, head of Intensive care at Cruces, told Reuters. “We don’t have the same pressure.”

With the new ward boosting capacity to more than 200 critical beds and just 14 patients currently admitted, the medics feel the hospital should be able to cope even if severe cases begin to spiral and they now have of experience of which treatments are most effective.

“We are mentally quite tired… But we are prepared,” Dr Labayan said.

(Reporting by Vincent West; Writing by Nathan Allen; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

Copyright 2020 Thomson Reuters.

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