CHICAGO: Teachers and support staff at more than 35 school districts across the United States on Monday (Aug 3) staged protests over plans to resume in-class instruction while COVID-19 is surging in many parts of the country.
The protesters, who formed car caravans and attached signs and painted messages on their vehicles, demand schools hold off on August and September school resumptions until scientific data supports such a move.
They want districts to wait until safety protocols such as lower class sizes and virus testing are established, and schools are staffed with an adequate number of counsellors and nurses, according to a website set up for the demonstrations.
On Twitter, the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association showed protesters making fake gravestones that said, "Here lies a third grade student from Green Bay who caught COVID at school" and "RIP Grandma caught COVID helping grand kids with homework."
Deaths in the United States rose for a fourth week in a row to more than 8,500 people in the seven days ended Aug 2, while the number of new cases fell for a second straight week, a Reuters analysis found.
More than 155,000 people have died of COVID-19 related illness in the United States, the most in the world. Cases rose week-over-week in 20 states, including in Missouri, Montana and Oklahoma.
Teachers also are demanding financial help for parents in need, including rent and mortgage assistance, a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, and cash assistance.
Many of these issues are at the centre of a political tussle in Washington, where Democrats in Congress and Trump administration officials held talks on Monday and will resume on Tuesday to hammer out a coronavirus economic relief bill after missing a deadline to extend benefits to tens of millions of jobless Americans.
Education employees in Chicago, Milwaukee and Philadelphia honked their horns in socially distanced car protests. Protesters rallied outside the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce building and in the Hartford, Connecticut, area, about 400 formed a car march that went by Governor Ned Lamont's home.
"I do not want to put my students or myself in harm's way. I do not want to be an experiment," Andrea Parker, an elementary school teacher in Chicago, told reporters before a car protest.
With Democratic candidate Joe Biden ahead of him in opinion polls, President Donald Trump has made school reopenings for classroom instruction part of his November re-election campaign.
"Cases up because of BIG Testing! Much of our Country is doing very well. Open the Schools!" the Republican Trump tweeted on Monday.
While reported case numbers may be linked to more testing, the rise in hospitalisations and deaths have no connection to an increase in testing.
On Sunday, Deborah Birx, the coordinator of Trump's coronavirus task force, said the United States is in a new phase of the outbreak with infections in rural areas as well as cities.
States with high case counts should reconsider imposing some restrictions to push infections to a low baseline before the autumn flu season, the government’s top infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, said in an interview with the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Previously hard-hit, densely populated parts of New York and New Jersey reduced the spread of the virus with stiff social distancing and healthcare measures. On Monday, however, faced with more new cases linked to indoor events, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy reduced indoor limits to 25 people per room from 100.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he would determine later this week based on the infection rate whether to reopen schools.
California Governor Gavin Newsom, reporting that new cases, hospitalisations and intensive care unit admissions were all trending down, said it was too soon to make modifications on reopening schools, which are scheduled to begin the academic year with online learning from home.