School report card: Texas student athletes play indoor sports, N.C. district postpones in-person learning after teacher dies of COVID-19

Korin Miller
·10 min read
Cheerleaders at Louise High School perform as other students watch during a pep rally, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Louise, Texas, on Nov. 20. (Reuters/Go Nakamura)
Cheerleaders at Louise High School perform as other students watch during a pep rally, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Louise, Texas, on Nov. 20. (Reuters/Go Nakamura)

Students are headed back to class amid the coronavirus pandemic, and to keep you posted on what’s unfolding throughout U.S. schools — K-12 as well as colleges — Yahoo Life is running a weekly wrap-up featuring news bites, interviews and updates on the ever-unfolding situation.

Texas schools have moved forward with indoor sports

Students in Texas are playing indoor sports, and masks aren’t required. That contradicts new guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) that recommends athletes “wear [masks] at all times for group training, competition and on the sidelines.”

The AAP also stated that indoor sports “bear the greatest risk of transmission” of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, noting that “certain sports (e.g., ice hockey) carry higher relative risk.”

“If indoor sports take place, proper use of a cloth face covering for all indoor sports training and competition is strongly recommended,” the AAP says.

Under Texas Education Agency’s public health planning guidance, schools “may continue to offer extracurricular activities” and may “allow students who are actively exercising to remove masks or face shields, as long as they maintain at least six feet of distance from other students, teachers, and staff who are not wearing masks or face shields.”

“It may be impractical for students to wear masks or face shields while participating in some non-[University Interscholastic League] athletic or other extracurricular activities,” TEA guidance reads. “When it is impractical for students to wear masks or face shields during those activities, schools must require students, teachers, staff, and visitors to wear masks or face shields when entering and exiting facilities and practice areas and when not actively engaging in those activities.”

TEA’s guidance is for sports that don’t fall into the University Interscholastic League (UIL), which provides educational extracurricular academic and athletic activities in Texas. Currently basketball, volleyball, swimming and diving, and wrestling adhere to UIL’s guidelines, which follow the statewide mandate for masks issued in July by Gov. Greg Abbott, with some exceptions. However, the Texas Tribune reports it’s up to school districts to decide whether students must wear them while playing.

The CDC says there’s an increased risk of COVID-19 spread playing team sports and suggests ways to reduce risk, which include but are not limited to playing outdoors, wearing a mask at all times and avoiding close contact with others.

There were 4,406 new COVID-19 cases among students reported in Texas schools for the week ending Dec. 20, which is the most recent data made available by the Texas Department of State Health Services. During that same time frame, 2,331 school staffers tested positive for the virus.

On Wednesday, the Texas Department of State Health Services tweeted that the COVID-19 spread “has likely never been worse in Texas,” noting that the state averaged 15,365 new cases a day over the previous seven-day time period.

Many doctors say indoor sports are just plain risky. “Having indoor sports is a disastrous idea,” Dr. Stanley H. Weiss, a professor at the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and the Department of Biostatistics & Epidemiology at the Rutgers School of Public Health, tells Yahoo Life. “It’s extremely dangerous and impossible for most of these athletes to wear a mask while playing because they’re breathing heavily,” he says.

Dr. John Sellick, an infectious disease expert and professor of medicine at the University at Buffalo/SUNY, tells Yahoo Life it’s difficult to determine exactly which indoor sports are the worst, but “when you have all these students huffing and puffing on one another in a very close setting, it’s clearly going to be a problem.” He lists basketball, ice hockey and wrestling as “certainly more problematic” due to the close proximity required to play the sports.

North Carolina school district postpones return to in-person learning after elementary school PE teacher’s death

Students and staff at Lincoln Charter School in Denver, N.C., are in mourning after the death of elementary school physical education teacher Jamie Seitz in late December from complications of COVID-19. Seitz, who worked at the school since 2009, was a PE teacher, as well as golf and basketball coach, Jonathan Bryant, chief administrator at Lincoln Charter School, tells Yahoo Life.

“Coach Seitz will be missed by his entire LCS family,” Bryant says, noting that the school is providing counselors to staff and students who need support.

A sign at Lincoln Charter pays tribute to coach Jamie Seitz, who died of COVID-19. (Courtesy of Taylor Helms)
A sign at Lincoln Charter pays tribute to coach Jamie Seitz, who died of COVID-19. (Courtesy of Taylor Helms)

More than 10,000 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in North Carolina on Friday.

On Jan. 4, the school board voted to have K-12 students begin the third marking period with remote learning, with in-person learning scheduled to resume on Feb. 1. In Lincoln County, where the Lincoln Charter School is located, there have been 1,175 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents over the past 14 days.

Despite the timing, Bryant says there hasn’t been a clear connection made between the death of Seitz and the board’s decision for students to go remote. “I cannot speak for our board and their rationale for their decision to move to remote learning,” he says.

A memorial, called Shine the Light, was held in honor of Seitz at the school on Dec. 30.

A memorial was held in honor of Seitz at Lincoln Charter School in Denver, N.C., on Dec. 30. (Courtesy of Taylor Helms)
A memorial was held in honor of Seitz at Lincoln Charter School in Denver, N.C., on Dec. 30. (Courtesy of Taylor Helms)

Colleges grapple with safety for the impending spring semester

Colleges across the country are looking to reopen for in-person learning for the spring semester, even as data shows they had large numbers of COVID-19 during the fall. At the University of Michigan, more than 3,000 students contracted the virus during the fall semester, which began on Aug. 31. The University of Florida had more than 4,000 cases.

Many schools are stretching the time between fall and spring semesters to try to avoid the predicted surge in postholiday cases of the virus. In an effort to continue learning for students during this time, some schools are getting creative by offering “mini-mesters” in which students can take online courses or virtual career boot camps.

These moves can work to help tamp down the spread of the virus, Sellick says. “Hopefully, doing some level of remote learning during this time will give students some chance to be a part of learning while lowering their risk of exposure,” he says.

Dr. Juan Salazar, physician in chief at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life says that any type of in-person learning on college campuses is “tough to do,” no matter when it starts up again. “Testing on campus, lots of surveillance and contact tracing can help, but there’s always the risk,” he says. “It really depends on the school and their ability to do all of that really well.”

Ohio wants to allow teachers to get vaccinated soon

Like many states, Ohio is offering the COVID-19 vaccine first to health care workers, first responders and nursing home residents and workers, as part of its phase 1A approach to vaccination. But state officials have just prioritized teachers and school employees for the next vaccination phase.

Ohio’s phase 1B will open up vaccination to state residents who are 65 and up, young people with severe health conditions that make them vulnerable to COVID-19, and “adults/employees in all schools,” according to the Ohio Department of Health’s COVID-19 Vaccination Program. Worth noting: School staffers are able to get vaccinated if they work in schools “that want to go back or to remain educating in person.”

There were 10,251 new cases of COVID-19 in the state, the Ohio Department of Health reported Thursday.

According a December analysis by the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, 23 of the 50 states and Washington, D.C., have teachers in the first phase of their vaccination plan. However, states are reassessing where teachers fall in terms of prioritization within state distribution plans, respectively. Vaccinations have also been prioritized for school employees in Utah and New York. “It’s a good move to vaccinate school staff,” Sellick says. “Some are in higher-risk groups, and they may be exposed through students.” Plus, having staff “stay healthy and stay on the job” is in the best interests of schools and communities, he explains.

Teachers are exposed to COVID-19 “a fair amount,” Salazar says, adding “they’re putting their lives on the line to try to keep our kids educated.” He urges other states to “consider teachers as frontline responders in some way.”

School reopening plans stall in California school districts

In late December, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a plan to reopen all California schools to in-person learning by the spring. Newsom also revealed that the state would offer $2 billion in aid for schools to help with safety protocols.

Now he’s getting pushback from superintendents of several of the state’s largest school districts, who are asking for a clear state-wide standard for reopening campuses and equitable distribution of funds.

“Our schools stand ready to resume in-person instruction as soon as health conditions are safe and appropriate. But we cannot do it alone,” superintendents from Los Angeles, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Oakland, Fresno and Sacramento wrote in a letter shared online. “Despite heroic efforts by students, teachers and families, it will take a coordinated effort by all in state and local government to reopen classrooms.”

The letter says that “state COVID standards must set consistent minimum practices necessary for all schools and all communities — rather than the patchwork that currently exists. The risk of the virus is the same in every classroom throughout the state and the standards of safety should be the same.”

The letter also notes that the new plan raises the reopening threshold to 28 cases per 100,000 people, which the superintendents call a “significant increase” from the seven cases per 100,000 standard that existed last month. “Our students, parents and staff need clear, consistent and well-understood guidelines in order to maintain confidence in the process,” the letter reads.

Bob Nelson, superintendent of the Fresno Unified School District, tells Yahoo Life that he’s frustrated that the state has set a date — Feb. 15 — for reopening, even as COVID-19 cases in California have reached record numbers.

“The science on it just doesn’t bear out,” Nelson says. “There’s this pervasive belief that the pandemic is under control — it’s not, and the calendar isn’t under our control, either.”

More than 50,000 people were diagnosed with the virus in California on Friday, and the state faces skyrocketing hospitalizations due to the virus and dwindling ICU beds. Currently one in three students in some Los Angeles County neighborhoods test positive for COVID-19, the superintendents’ letter states. The situation in California is so bad that emergency medical service workers have been told not to bring patients to hospitals who are unlikely to survive, given that there is no room to treat them.

Nelson says that superintendents need “clear guidelines” from the state to describe what “safe” means. “It would be easier to have statewide guidance instead of districts all defining and negotiating what is safe,” he says.

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

Read more from Yahoo Life

Want lifestyle and wellness news delivered to your inbox? Sign up here for Yahoo Life’s newsletter.