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Joe Biden urges schools to stay open despite one million US COVID cases a day

By Tuesday, it was estimated that more than 3000 schools across the US had delayed in-person learning. The country exceeded 1 million COVID-19 cases on Monday — the highest daily number recorded in the world and more than double the previous record set in the US four days prior.

Speaking ahead of a briefing with the White House COVID-19 taskforce, Biden urged classrooms to remain open, telling reporters: “Schools can and should be open this winter. We have all the tools to keep kids safe.”

However, hospitalisations involving children are also increasing, with states such as Pennsylvania, Georgia, Connecticut and Ohio among many reporting record rates of infections in children. According to a data analysis by the American Academy of Paediatrics, there were more than 325,000 child COVID-19 cases reported by December 30 — a 64 per cent increase from the week prior.

Health experts say the peak of the virus is not likely to be reached for another three weeks, presenting the Biden administration with an ongoing challenge as it seeks to get the balance between public health and keeping businesses, schools, and services open.

“In the next few weeks, schools are going to have to make some challenging decisions here,” said US Surgeon General Dr Vivek Murthy, urging parents to also ensure their children were masked and vaccinated.

“We hope that they use these mitigation measures that we know work to keep our kids safe, but I recognise in some cases, schools may have to make temporary emergency decisions if they have a large number of staff, for example, who are at stake if they feel they can’t take these measures. But the goal is keep our kids in school.”

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As cases of the highly contagious Omicron variant soared last month, and the White House came under fire for not dealing with the latest strain quickly enough, the government announced before Christmas that it would buy 500,000 home testing kits and mail them to people who wanted them. However, the kits would not be available until this month.

Biden acknowledged that Americans were frustrated by the shortage of test kits, adding: “believe me, it’s frustrating to me – but we’re making improvements.”

The President insisted that more stock would be available in the weeks and months ahead, and also announced the White House had doubled its order of Pfizer’s antiviral pills to 20 million units.

From next week, private health insurers will also be required to reimburse people for the cost of a rapid antigen test.

The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention last week shortened the isolation period from 10 days to five for asymptomatic adults and children who test positive. This led to some concerns that the new guidelines allowed people to leave isolation without testing if they were still infectious.

However, in explaining its rational on Tuesday (Wednesday), the agency said lab tests could show positive results long after someone stopped being contagious, and that a negative at-home test may not necessarily indicate there is no threat. It also argued that more than 100 studies from 17 countries indicated that most transmission happened early in an infection.

On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration allowed extra Pfizer shots for children as young as 12, meaning that all teenagers in the US will soon be eligible for COVID boosters.

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