The United States’ daily coronavirus death toll has surpassed more 1,000 for four consecutive days as the country struggles to contain a reemergence of the Covid-19 outbreak, with at least 1,019 fatalities reported on Friday.
Total cases across the United States rose by at least 68,800 on Friday to over 4 million. Those numbers have been driven in large part by a surge in infections in Arizona, California, Florida, Texas and California, with Florida officially overtaking New York – once the nation’s epicentre of the global pandemic – in total cases.
“We’re already starting to see some plateauing in these critical four states that have really suffered under the last four weeks, so Texas, California, Arizona and Florida, those major metros and throughout their counties,” Dr Deborah Birx told NBC News.
The leading infectious disease expert’s comments came as federal health and education officials stressed the need for children to return to in-class instruction. The American public and its leaders have been sharply divided over whether students should return to school for the fall term during the pandemic.
Dr Birx said children under the age of 18 are typically less sick than older adults from the sometimes deadly illness but called it an “open question” how readily those under 10 can spread the virus.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has pushed for schools to reopen, saying that it was critical to the mental and emotional well-being of children and the ability of their parents to work.
Business closures and “stay-at-home” orders imposed by governors and local officials have badly damaged the nation’s economy and thrown millions of Americans out of work.
The CDC issued a call to reopen schools in a statement posted on its website that listed the benefits of being in school and downplayed health risks, although it said exceptions should be made for so-called virus “hot spots”.
The guidance does not carry the force of law, and it is unclear how much weight it will carry with school districts. Most teachers’ unions, which in some states and cities have an outsized political influence especially among Democrats, have fought hard against reopenings.
The guidelines were “all put out with the intent to help facilitate, as was mentioned earlier, the full reopening of schools for face-to-face learning”, said Dr Robert Redfield, the CDC’s director.
The CDC, the nation’s health protection agency, posted the documents after Mr Trump called earlier recommendations too tough, impractical and expensive. The Republican president has been increasingly critical of health experts as the surge in cases interferes with his efforts to reopen the economy.
While the risk of severe Covid-19 is seen as relatively low for children, there is fear they could infect teachers and other employees.
Schools across the country are opening on different dates, with different modes of teaching – virtual instruction, in-person in classrooms, or a hybrid of both – and different or unclear expectations of how long each stage will last.
In-person classes in metropolitan Houston, which has been hard-hit by the virus in recent weeks, have been delayed until at least 8 September, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said.
New Jersey on Friday issued guidelines allowing parents to choose all-remote learning after receiving feedback from many who “wanted a greater voice in the decision-making process”.
Reuters contributed to this report