Watch CBS News

Millions return to in-person classes despite huge jump in COVID cases and calls for remote learning

Kids return to school despite Omicron surge
Millions of children return to school despite surging COVID cases across the country 02:42

Millions of children returned to school Monday despite a huge jump in new COVID-19 cases across much of the country. And while some districts are teaching remotely, most schools are doing in-person classes.

The number of new infections reported in the U.S. last week hit an all-time high of nearly half a million a day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The outbreak is largely driven by the Omicron variant, which is showing no signs of slowing down.

In New York, new coronavirus cases jumped 218% in just two weeks, and hospitalizations went up 148% in the same period, according to the city's health department. 

To keep schools open, the city is sending an additional 2 million test kits into schools and doubling the number of students tested each week. But the teachers' union is asking for in-person learning to be put on pause. 

Educators like Camille Eterno, a high school English teacher, are urging the mayor to listen.

"I recognize the need for students to be present in the buildings, but I'm also cognizant of the fact that if we're all bunched up together and we get sick, we're not going to be there anyway," said Eterno, who's been teaching for 24 years.

Districts that have opted for virtual learning this winter are firmly in the minority right now. Only about 100 of the nation's more than 13,000 school districts are opting for virtual learning this winter despite surging case numbers.

In Washington, D.C., where the number of new cases jumped 331% over the last two weeks, city officials extended the winter break by just two days so all students had time to get tested. In Florida's Miami-Dade County, where schools are also opening on time, about 1 in 4 COVID-19 tests are coming back positive.

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said the Biden administration is helping school districts secure more tests to keep classrooms open.

"I believe even with Omicron, our default should be in-person learning for all students across the country," Cardona said on CBS News' "Face the Nation" Sunday.

"I still believe very firmly and very passionately — not only as an educator, but as a parent — that our students belong in the classroom and we can do it safely," he said.

Cardona said that includes mitigation strategies like mask wearing, social distancing and vaccines for all children who are eligible. 

Also on Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci said the CDC faced some blowback for its latest COVID-19 isolation guidelines, which don't require a negative test for someone to end a five-day isolation period. Fauci, who is President Joe Biden's chief medical adviser, said the agency may consider adding a testing requirement.

Dr. David Agus on Omicron's spread, CDC guidelines and boosters for kids 03:20

CBS News' medical contributor Dr. David Agus said the country's testing infrastructure is "still limited."

"We need more testing. Testing needs to increase across the country to be able to stop the spread of the virus," he said Monday on "CBS Mornings."

Agus said testing should be mandated in schools so students can go back to in-person learning.

"And if you test negative, you can go to school," he said. "I think that's the way we should be doing things, and much of the world is doing that, particularly in European countries. And you have to have a mask mandate when numbers are up."

Agus said the rising number of COVID-19 hospitalizations should be the nation's top concern as many patients, particularly those who are unvaccinated, are basically "filling up hospitals" and affecting unrelated medical procedures.

"What we need to focus on is that number because that is what's limiting our society in many respects," he said.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.