Kids start school year online amid pandemic; college towns become virus hotspots

(CNN) – It’s the first day of school for over 1.8 million students in the U.S., but for those attending 14 of the nation’s 16 largest school districts opening Tuesday, classes will be held entirely online.

The American Academy of Pediatrics reported over 70,000 new cases of COVID-19 in children over the two-week period ending Aug. 27 – that’s an increase of 17 percent.

While grade schools evaluate the safest way to begin the academic year, some college towns are already turning into coronavirus hotspots.

In upstate New York, SUNY Oneonta reported at least 651 cases since the start of the semester. At Iowa State, at least 900 students tested positive since Aug. 1.

At the University of New Hampshire, a cluster of cases has been linked to a fraternity party attended by more than 100 people.

“So we’re concerned about any other individuals who may have been attending events there or visiting their friends at this location, just because we know that there have been at least 11 people who have tested positive,” said Beth Daly, chief of the Bureau of Infectious Disease Control within the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services.

That risk is why NYU says it suspended more than 20 students for violating the university’s health and safety guidelines.

Meanwhile, health experts fear celebrations and crowds over Labor Day weekend could fuel another round of dangerous spikes, as seen over Memorial Day and the Fourth of July holidays.

“We’re not in a sprint. It’s very, very important that we continue to have all the social distancing, mask wearing, avoiding large groups,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a former official with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We’re all very concerned that the behaviors this weekend will be an accelerant and spread the COVID virus even further. Flu is on the way. That will double the danger.”

President Donald Trump implied a vaccine could be ready by November.

“So, we’re going to have a vaccine very soon, maybe even before a very special date. You know what date I’m talking about,” Trump said.

Health experts, however, said there’s no guaranteed timeline, emphasizing that delivering a safe and effective preventative is key.

“I’m really hopeful that we will have a vaccine by either year-end or by early next year,” said Dr. Vivek Murthy, a former U.S. surgeon general.

“But the key thing about the process for getting a vaccine is that it has to be driven by science and scientists, not by political figures or by political timelines.”

As of Tuesday morning, the U.S. had recorded well over 6 million coronavirus cases and more than 189,000 deaths.

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