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Young People Are Spreading the Virus

This is the Coronavirus Schools Briefing, a guide to the seismic changes in U.S. education that are taking place during the pandemic. Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.

New research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirms what many already know: Younger people are infecting older people.

In both the United States and Europe, 20 to 39 year olds make up a growing percentage of coronavirus cases. Although younger people are less likely to be hospitalized with severe illness or die from the virus compared with older people, young adults are most likely playing a significant role in spreading the virus, the researchers said.

Infections in southern states like Alabama, Florida, Georgia, for example, were staggered. After an outbreak among young people, the study found that virus cases increased nine days later in people age 40 to 59 years old. There was another surge in reported cases 15 days later among those older than 60.

Outbreaks linked to college dorms, for example, might be deadly to students’ friends, relatives and neighbors. In a recent study, researchers found that surges in cases occurred about two weeks after colleges reopened, with a higher increase for those adopting in-person models than those offering online classes.

That has real implications for relations between colleges and college towns.

In Wednesday’s newsletter, we mentioned a spat between the chancellor of the University of Wisconsin and the executive of the surrounding Dane County. Over the past week, there have been an average of 2,018 cases per day in Wisconsin, an increase of 112 percent from the average two weeks earlier, according to a Times tracker.

As colleges reopen, people ages 18 to 24 have a case rate that’s five times higher than any other age group in the state. Gov. Tony Evers announced a statewide mask mandate as well as a new public health emergency declaration, pointing to campus outbreaks.

On Friday, there were six Wisconsin metropolitan areas on The Times’s list of the 20 places nationwide with the most cases, on average, over the past two weeks. (The top of the list, La Crosse, Wis., has 79.6 new daily cases on average per 100,000 people.) All six areas are home to higher education institutions.

A semester deferred: Community colleges, which usually see enrollment increases in economic downturns, have 7.5 percent fewer students this year, according to an early look at fall enrollment from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Over all, college enrollment is down 2.5 percent.

A bright spot: Beloit College, in Wisconsin, asked students to write and enforce coronavirus regulations. The behavioral expectations are more flexible than other schools — gatherings are allowed — but they are also more specific: Smokers should be conscious where they exhale and only indoor parties are forbidden. It seems to be working. Although there are students in quarantine and isolation, no students had tested positive for the virus and there was only one faculty case over the two weeks to Sept. 25, according to the college’s Covid-19 dashboard.

Tracking Covid-19: The Times is tracking coronavirus cases on campuses through a rolling survey, which is due to be updated on Friday afternoon.

New York City’s logistical morass

Just a few days before elementary schools reopen in New York City, it’s becoming clear that the logistics of teaching in a pandemic are nearly as complicated as the virus itself.

Even after several delays, the main problem is a massive teacher shortage, as schools try to serve hybrid students (both those in class and those at home on a given day) and the students who opted for full-remote learning. That effectively doubles the number of teachers required. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has added about 4,500 educators in recent days, but the city is still thousands of teachers short.

“I was like, ‘I don’t see a way to do this,’” one principal told our colleague Eliza Shapiro, who covers education in New York City.

Some schools are sidestepping restrictions imposed in part by the teachers’ union, asking teachers to teach online and in-person on the same day, or to livestream their classes. Others are asking students who come to school buildings to “attend” their classes on computers, just like the distance-learning students.

As schools reopen in New York City, with middle and high school students scheduled to phase in over the next few weeks, educators in other big cities like Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston are learning from the city’s example — and from its missteps.

“All eyes are on New York,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

School Reopenings ›

Back to School

Updated Sept. 25, 2020

The latest on how schools are reopening amid the pandemic.

    • After coronavirus infections soared in young adults, including college students, older people were hit next, according to a new government report.
    • New York City’s hybrid schooling model seems like a promising way to provide socially distanced instruction in classrooms. But will it actually work?
    • Early data for the new school year suggests that attendance in virtual classrooms is down.
    • Sorry, kids. The pandemic has probably killed snow days.

    In other New York news:

    More than 200 teachers, administrators and staff members of Albany City Schools will lose their jobs today because of virus-related budget cuts.

    Across the state, 6,060 public school educators retired from April to August of this year, up 9 percent compared with the same period last year, LoHud reported.

    Even though they won’t be attending school in-person, some New York students are being excluded from online classrooms because their immunizations aren’t up to date.

    Around the country

    College update

    The Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity chapter house at Indiana University in Bloomington has been closed through summer 2021 because it “intentionally instituted, permitted or maintained conditions which may transmit the spread of COVID-19,” according to the local health department.

    Denver is creating public health orders for colleges and universities as young people make up a growing percentage of new cases. Nearby Boulder County issued an order that prohibits gatherings of people ages 18 to 22 and created a stay-at-home mandate for anyone living at 36 properties near the University of Colorado-Boulder campus.

    Wyoming is reporting more cases per day than during any other period of the coronavirus pandemic, driven by a return to school for the University of Wyoming in Laramie and the state’s community colleges.

    In Texas counties where four-year college students are at least 10 percent of the population, cases have grown by 34 percent since Aug. 19, according to a Texas Tribune analysis. In contrast, counties with fewer college students had a 23 percent increase.

    Merrimack College, in North Andover, Mass., has quarantined an entire dorm after learning that 16 students had tested positive in one day.

    K-12 update

    Kiss snow days goodbye. (Not just because of the climate crisis.) Schools have become more comfortable with remote teaching, and might just carry on over Zoom.

    In Texas, 69 percent of public school students who tested positive were in grades seven through 12, according to state data.

    About 18,000 students and staff members in Florida have been told to quarantine since public schools opened last month, but the education commissioner said that fewer than 50 of them were exposed to the coronavirus on campus.

    School employees and educators may be among the first to get the vaccine, according to a new federal plan.

    Tip: File early for financial aid

    The government released the Free Application for Federal Student Aid — the form known as FAFSA — for the 2021-22 academic year on Thursday. It’s a major gateway for financial help from the federal government, as well as from many states and colleges.

    This year, if you qualify for financial aid, or if you think you qualify for financial aid, file early. If your family suffered economically, you may need to take extra steps and file extra documents to qualify for the maximum help.

    Here’s why: This year’s FAFSA will use financial information from the 2019 tax year to determine a family’s expected out-of-pocket payment for college. But because of the pandemic, tax returns filed this year might not accurately reflect your current financial picture, which could diminish your eligibility for need-based grants and scholarships.

    If that’s the case, you still have to use the required, older tax information, but you should also immediately contact your college financial aid office to alert them to your situation and request a review known in college aid lingo as “professional judgment.”

    Without test scores and compromised extracurricular activities, colleges might also struggle to dole out merit-based discounts this year. Test scores are especially in play. Our colleague Ron Lieber wrote: “Every applicant seeking merit aid has to weigh the question: If I can’t find a testing center or my health is at risk if I sit in one, could the lack of a score cost me thousands in lost discounts?”

    Parents: Don’t abandon all hope

    Aubrey Hirsch told the story of online learning for her two kids, ages 5 and 7, in a hilarious comic for Vox.com. Parents, even if you’re cry-laughing, at least you’ll be laughing.

    Also, from Anne Helen Petersen in The Times, parental burnout is a real thing.

    Sign up here to get the briefing by email.

    Jonathan Wolfe contributed to today’s newsletter.

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