US divided over mask wearing and schools reopening as coronavirus cases surge

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – Divided Americans dug further into debates over mask mandates and schools reopening on Friday (July 17), with states and localities choosing conflicting strategies in the face of surging coronavirus cases.

In the state of Georgia, Governor Brian Kemp sued Atlanta’s mayor to prevent her from mandating masks, while Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, leader of the country’s third largest school district, unveiled a plan to offer both in-person and remote instruction over the objection of the teachers’ union.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp is seen during a coronavirus press conference in Atlanta, Georgia.
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp is seen during a coronavirus press conference in Atlanta, Georgia.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

With school set to resume in a few weeks, school districts across the country have announced a variety of plans to restart teaching amid the pandemic.

California Governor Gavin Newsom, who until now has allowed school districts in his state of 40 million people to set their own policies, issued new guidance on Friday that schools could start in-person instruction if they are in counties that have stayed off the state’s monitoring list for 14 days. 

Schools on the monitoring list must remain closed but can offer remote learning, Newsom said.

Amid the patchwork of policies, the United States reported a daily global record of more than 77,000 new infections on Thursday, raising the total to more than 3.5 million cases, with nearly 140,000 deaths.

Through it all, President Donald Trump has urged a return to normal, stressing the importance of reigniting the economy while sometimes rejecting the advice of public health advisers.

One nurse on the front lines begged schools not to call students back to class and decried a lack of personal protective equipment at her hospital, where she said at least six of her co-workers had tested positive for Covid-19.

“I took an oath as a nurse to do no harm. Every time I show up to work with a lack of personal protective equipment, I am doing harm because I am potentially exposing a patient to Covid,” said Marissa Lee, a labor and delivery nurse at Osceola Regional Medical Centre in Florida, where she said at least two expectant mothers on her floor were Covid-positive.

More than 1,200 medical professionals, including 161 nurses, have died from the coronavirus in the United States, according to the National Nurses United union.

Lee’s concerns were echoed by the Chicago Teachers Union, which says classroom instruction is unsafe and classes should be taught remotely.

“There is no safe way to reopen anything during a pandemic,”union president Jesse Sharkey said in a statement.

PLEA OF HEALTH EXPERTS

Public health experts have pleaded with politicians and the public to cover their faces to help stop the spread of infection amid a wider cultural divide in the United States.

Trump and his followers have resisted a full-throated endorsement of masks and have been calling for a return to normal economic activity following pandemic-induced shutdowns.

Videos on social media show people across the country irately declaring their right to shop or congregate in public without masks, with many disputing evidence that masks are effective.

Top US infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci on Friday said he “would urge the leaders – the local political leaders in states and cities and towns – to be as forceful as possible in getting your citizenry to wear masks.”

Kemp, a fellow Republican and Trump supporter, said masks would help slow infections and urged all Georgians to wear masks for at least four weeks on Friday, but said mandates were unenforceable and suggested they would hobble the economy.

Trump visited Kemp in Atlanta this week and declined to wear a mask, which Democratic Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said violated city law.

“Brian Kemp does the bidding of President Trump,” Bottoms, who disclosed this month that she had tested positive for the coronavirus, told CNN on Friday.

“It’s unfortunate because meanwhile over 130,000 people in our state have tested positive for Covid-19. Over 3,100 people have lost their lives and… this governor is taking taxpayer money to sue me personally.”

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