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Coronavirus safety plans already put to the test as some communities start the school year
AP

Coronavirus safety plans already put to the test as some communities start the school year

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A new school year began this week in several communities across the United States, bringing with it the first glimpse at how the Covid-19 pandemic will shape education.

"Don't expect a normal school year," New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said Friday when talking about the possibility of changing the state's school plans in light of rising cases. "Normalcy is not in our grasp right now. Let's all accept that."

School districts have been debating how to accommodate educational needs and safety in a nation with more than 4.5 million coronavirus cases and 153,314 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. As the new school year began for some schools this week, 60 of the 101 largest US school districts had plans to start the year entirely online, while others were offering in-person classes part or full time.

Top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci has warned that children going back to school will be "part of the experiment" of understanding the virus.

An Indiana school district was put to the test on the first day Thursday when the Hancock County Health Department told a junior high school that a student who had attended part of the day tested positive, Superintendent Dr. Harold Olin said in his letter to parents.

The school enacted its "Positive COVID-19 Test Protocol," isolated the student and professionally disinfected the school, Olin said.

"It was very evident today that nearly all of our families and students were prepared to properly follow the safety protocols we have established," Olin wrote to parents. "Adhering to these protocols is essential for maintaining a safe environment for all students and staff."

Infections in younger people

While early data suggested that older Americans were most at risk for the disease, concern for teens and young adults has grown as they have gathered in reopened public spaces and some prepare to return to school.

The California Department of Public Health confirmed the first coronavirus-related death of a teenager in the state on Friday. The department did not provide information on the patient except to say that the teenager did have underlying health conditions.

"Our hearts go out to the family and loved ones of this young person whose death is a tragic and powerful reminder of how serious Covid-19 can be," said Dr. Sonia Angell, State Public Health Officer and Director of the CDPH.

In Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said Thursday that he and the state's public health commissioner are concerned about clusters among teens and young adults. The coronavirus infection numbers among 10 to 19-year-olds had "doubled" recently, Lamont said, though he did not provide specific numbers.

"This is not a time to relax our basic practices to slow down the spread of the virus. This is a time for remaining vigilant," Lamont said in a release.

Local leaders tackle the impacts of a resurgence

Other state and local leaders are enacting measures to slow down the virus as cases continue to spike.

The city of Anchorage, Alaska, rolled back parts of its economic reopening for at least the next four weeks, limiting outdoor gatherings to 50 people; prohibiting bars, nightclubs and restaurants from indoor service; and extending the city's indoor mask mandate to outdoor events where social distancing isn't possible, Mayor Ethan Berkowitz said at a Friday news conference.

"We know there is a Covid storm coming," Berkowitz said. "This is our time to batten down."

A surge has already hit in Alabama, overwhelming the state's testing abilities, the Alabama Department of Public Health said Friday, asking doctors to focus testing on the most vulnerable populations.

Alabama is among the at least 39 states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico to have some type of mask requirement in place.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who sued Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms over her mask requirement for the city, has extended existing Covid-19 safety measures through September 10, he announced in a news release on Friday.

While there is still no mask mandate, the order continues to ban gatherings of more than 50 people unless there is six feet between each person and outlines mandatory criteria for businesses.

Racing to develop tests and vaccines

Health experts are expediting coronavirus tests and vaccines to help officials and the public combat the virus.

The US Food and Drug Administration issued emergency use authorizations Friday for two tests that can tell not only whether someone has antibodies to coronavirus but can give some idea of how much antibody is present.

Evaluating antibodies is important as researchers investigate if people who have been infected develop immunity, a question Dr. Tim Stenzel, the director of the Office of In Vitro Diagnostics and Radiological Health in the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said has yet to be answered.

"Patients should not interpret results as telling them they are immune, or have any level of immunity, from the virus," he said.

CNN's Melanie Schuman, Rebekah Riess, Topher Gauk-Roger, Andy Rose, Shelby Lin Erdman and Jennifer Henderson contributed to this report.

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