Coronavirus Today: The school reopening dilemma

Good evening. I’m Diya Chacko, and it’s Wednesday, July 8. Here’s what’s happening with the coronavirus in California and beyond.

Most schools will wrap up their summer breaks next month, but the state’s soaring cases and hospitalizations are threatening to disrupt the fall semester on K-12 campuses.

At the moment, local school districts in California are in charge of handling their reopening plans. School systems are working out hybrid class schedules in which students would be on campus part-time in small groups and work from home the rest of the time. The staggering of in-classroom learning is necessary to comply with local and federal guidelines to keep students at least six feet apart.

In L.A. County, public and private schools must also make contingency plans for students to keep learning entirely from home, said L.A. County’s health director. “We would be irresponsible if we didn’t say to you that you have to have the backup plan ready,” Dr. Barbara Ferrer told local education leaders in a phone call recording obtained by The Times.

That notice comes as President Trump pressures schools and universities across the U.S. to resume in-class learning in the fall, pointing to some countries in Europe that he said had reopened campuses successfully — countries that have also seen an overall decline in disease transmission. On Wednesday, he threatened to withhold federal money from districts that don’t bring kids to campus. While school systems already received coronavirus-related funding earlier this year, a larger aid package is currently stalled in Congress.

Trump also complained about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention‘s school safety guidelines, saying in a tweet that “they are asking schools to do very impractical things.” In response, Gov. Gavin Newsom said that the safety of students and school employees is paramount. “What we need to address is safely reopening schools, “he said. “That to me is not negotiable.”

A recent survey of Los Angeles parents and educators found that about 20% of parents said they are not ready to send their children back to a campus this fall, and more than a third of school employees said they are against returning. Last month, however, Southern California pediatricians warned that keeping children off school campuses could put them “at risk for worsening academic, developmental and health outcomes.”


By the numbers

California cases and deaths as of 4:30 p.m. PDT Wednesday:

More than 288,200 California cases and at least 6,659 deaths as of 4:30 p.m. PDT Wednesday, July 8.
(Compiled by L.A. Times Graphics)

Track the latest numbers and how they break down in California with our graphics.

The Newsom administration's road map to reopening California.
(Priya Krishnakumar / Los Angeles Times)

See which counties are reopening with our tracker.

Consider subscribing to the Los Angeles Times

Your support helps us deliver the news that matters most. Become a subscriber.

Across California

L.A. County on Wednesday recorded 61 coronavirus-related deaths — the highest single-day death toll since June 2. “Tragically, we do expect that more of our loved ones and our neighbors may die of COVID-19 in the coming weeks with all of the increases we’re seeing in hospitalizations,” Ferrer said.

The high demand for coronavirus tests is prompting county officials once again to give priority to those who are showing symptoms, work in a high-risk environment or have come in contact with a person known to have been exposed to the virus. Just a few weeks ago, they were encouraging everyone to get tested, especially those who had visited any large gatherings or participated in protests. “We have to watch the supply chain,” said Health Services Director Dr. Christina Ghaly.

The county plans to fine or revoke the permits of restaurants that aren’t complying with COVID-19 health orders, under a motion passed Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors that also calls current inspection methods inadequate. “We have neither the time nor the government resources to continue to spend weeks counseling businesses that should be prepared to adhere to public health rules,” it reads. The county department of public health now has 14 days to present an enforcement plan for approval, including details on the size of the fines.

South Lake Tahoe, one of Californian’s favorite summer destinations, has seen a spike in new coronavirus cases. Over the last 14 days, that area of El Dorado County has reported an infection rate of 169 new cases for every 100,000 residents, according to the county health officer. If the South Lake Tahoe region were its own county, “it would now be added to the state’s monitoring list,” she said.


— For general safety, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds (here’s a super-fun how-to video). Stop touching your face, and keep your phone clean. Practice social distancing, maintaining a six-foot radius of personal space in public. And wear a mask if you leave home. Here’s how to do it right.
— Watch for symptoms including fever, cough, shortness of breath, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and loss of taste or smell. If you’re worried you might be infected, call your doctor or urgent care clinic before going there.
— Need a COVID-19 test? Here’s how to receive a free test if you’re in L.A. County. And here’s a map of testing sites across California.
— Here’s how to care for someone with COVID-19, from monitoring their symptoms to preventing the virus’ spread.
— If your job has been affected by the pandemic, here’s how to file for unemployment.
— Here are some free resources for restaurant workers and entertainment industry professionals having trouble making ends meet.
— Advice for helping kids navigate pandemic life includes being honest about uncertainties, acknowledging their feelings and sticking to a routine. Here’s guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
— In need of mental health services? Here are resources for coping during the crisis from the CDC and the L.A. County Department of Public Health. L.A. County residents can also call (800) 854-7771 or text “LA” to 741741.
Tempted to go out now that the economy is reopening? Here’s how you can assess your risk.

Around the nation and the world

All eyes are on the scientific race to develop a vaccine, but there are some intermediary steps the government needs to get right to ensure a successful vaccination campaign. Democrats are pressuring the administration to put together plans for vaccine distribution and to make those plans public. Thus far, the Trump administration has put in orders for hundreds of millions of syringes from two small medical supply companies with little track record of fulfilling government orders of that magnitude.

New rules barring international students from staying in the U.S. if their schools move all of their courses online are likely to disproportionately affect students from Asia. One student from Beijing is worried about the prospect of taking virtual classes with a 15-hour time difference, and limited access to American search engines and scholarly databases. “For me to be inside the borders of mainland China ... within the firewall ... the quality of my thesis will not be close to the quality of research I will be able to conduct within the States,” she said. Harvard and MIT have sued to block the rules from being enforced.

D.L. Hughley discussed his experience with the coronavirus on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” Tuesday. The comedian, who collapsed during a live stand-up set in Nashville last month, said he didn’t have any of the normal symptoms such as fever, coughing and shortness of breath. “What I had was passing the hell out,” he said.

Your questions answered

Today’s question comes from readers who want to know: When can I renew my passport? Here’s an update from Terry Gardner, writing for The Times’ Travel team.

Passport sites are in the midst of a three-phase reopening plan recommended by the CDC, with some sites in phase one, only a couple in phase two and none in phase three. Right now priority is going to people who need a passport in the next 72 hours for a life-or-death emergency only — serious illnesses, injuries or deaths in your immediate family.

The U.S. State Department faces a backlog of 1.5 million passport applications, at which newly opened sites have begun to whittle away. If you’ve already filed paperwork for a new or renewed passport, it’s likely you’ll have to wait a little longer.

If you plan to submit an application for a new passport, the agency advises you to wait until sites are fully reopen. Otherwise you may face a delay in the return of important documents such as old passports and birth and naturalization certificates.

Got a question? Our reporters covering the coronavirus outbreak want to hear from you. Email us your questions, and we’ll do our best to answer them. You can find more answers in our Frequently Asked Questions roundup and on our coronavirus roundup page.

For the most up-to-date coronavirus coverage from The Times, visit our homepage and our Health section, listen to our “Coronavirus in California” podcast and follow us on Twitter and on Instagram.