Tag Archive: covid

  1. Keep New Jersey schools closed: safety in seclusion

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    Last month, Various districts in North Jersey approved the return for students and staff members in September.

    Several school districts across northern New Jersey approved plans for an online option, half-day schedule, and hybrid models where students are divided into groups that rotate from online to in-person classes on set days.

    While it is most effective for students to learn in a classroom environment, there are many holes in the various districts’ plans for reopening which suggests that it is not safe to open schools.

    Teachers and administrators have noticed the faults in the current plans. North Jersey teachers held a rally over Route 4 protesting the reopening of schools in New Jersey, as first reported by NorthJersey.com. Protesters demanded that schools be closed until the coronavirus is “under control”.

    Silvia Acosta, an educational specialist at Hawes Elementary School in Ridgewood, is among the school faculty members who have objected to the NJ schools reopening in September.

    “ I am going to be scared if I have to go back to work and things are not safe,” said Acosta on the return of students back to schools. “There is so much we don’t know about this virus, we could be opening up a huge pandora’s box .”

    While school districts across North Jersey have meticulously planned the re-opening of schools to be as safe as possible, there are still a few elements not accounted for.

    Acosta said that while the staff will try to keep students from clustering together, school faculty will have trouble when it comes to interfering with groups of students while still trying to maintain the 6 feet apart mandate.

    The state of Air filtration systems remains another concerning element of many school’s reopening plans. The HVAC-8 air filtration systems, which the majority of NJ schools have, filters fresh air coming in and out of the build using the Merv-13, which removes unwanted particles from the air. While this filtration system is helpful for filtering dust and other particles, it will not stem the movement of coronavirus particles according to Acosta. 

    The air filtrations system will not add to the safety of students. The limitations of how safe we can make schools are apparent and insufficient.

    Even if everyone abides by school protocol to wear a mask, it only decreases the chances of getting COVID-19 by 65% according to figures published by UC Davis

    “I don’t think that hundreds of people can safely learn in one building realistically especially since people could take off their masks at any point, not respecting social distance requirements,” said Olivia Jackson, a sophomore at Pascack Valley High School in Hillsdale.

    These last few months of online learning has proven to be a difficult transition for many students. The distractions that home learning entails have made it hard to remain productive. 

    We, students, long for the day when we can return to school, reintegrate ourselves in the academic and social community that matters most to us.

    However, we understand that sending students and teachers back to school, putting both parties in danger, would contribute to the newest coronavirus outbreaks in northern New Jersey. This is not speculation. School-related outbreaks have occurred in Georgia elementary schools after a failed re-opening. 

    We, the students, have sat at home for too long for this pandemic to relapse once again. If we start steering back to the path of a normal life too soon we could be contributing to the second wave of COVID-19.

    Rushing back into school at an unstable time can only provide further damage to our community.

  2. New contact tracing method helps scientists assess spread of COVID-19 infections

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    While often glanced over, sewage systems may have become the newest source of information on the spread of the novel coronavirus.

    The Center for Disease Control (CDC) approved the newest method of Covid-19 contact tracing on Aug. 8. This new method, known as sewage surveillance, is currently used in a number of cities in the United States including Baton Rouge, Houston, and Los Angeles, and the list is growing daily as scientists use this method to gather live data to help stop further infections of the coronavirus.

    Sewage surveillance tests the number of virus copies that are in a specific area and from there, scientists calculate how many people in that community are infected by Covid-19. Sewage surveillance involves many teams across the country composed of environmental biologists, veterinarians, and epidemiologists to get accurate and effective results.

    “Most big cities are doing this now,” said LSU Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor John Pardue who spearheaded the use of wastewater to see how many cases of the virus exist. “It is a great tool for epidemiologists to use for all types of things including analyzing diet, blood pressure, and viruses in a community or individual.”

    Pardue said sewage surveillance has already existed for decades prior. It helped scientists gather live data and find information about diseases like Polio and Ebola; but, the CDC just approved of its use in the effort to contact trace the coronavirus.

    “I think that the CDC was not quite sure what it meant or how to interpret the data,” said Pardue on the CDC’s decision to only recently approve this form of contact tracing. “Sewage surveillance did not really take off until the coronavirus.”

    Until now, the over-the-phone contact tracing method, which consists of a system of volunteer health professionals who contact individuals who have tested positive for the coronavirus and track down those the infected individual came into contact with, has remained the sole version of contract tracing in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus. This method provides information on exact individuals that may have caught the virus but not the extent of how large the number of infections within a community.

    By contrast, contact tracing through sewage surveillance could help provide better estimates of the infected population of a specific community or communities in a timely manner.

    “Over the phone contact tracing doesn’t give you a lot of information in the time you need it, and sewage surveillance is less accurate when it comes to identifying specific individuals,” said Pardue.

    “The big thing that we have seen in the sewage system is a direct impact on public health. We saw a big surge of virus samples in the sewage about a week ahead of hospital data.”

    The early indications in the sewage water of the number of cases in an area can impact the awareness of the people in a community and also impact the type of precautions each person takes in protecting against the virus.

    “I can’t stress enough how important it is to keep the community educated and aware of the amount of Covid-19 in an area,” said Eligio Cisneros who works as a contact tracer in the city of Houston. “It gives us ease when we know exactly where and who it is coming from. In my opinion, sewage surveillance and contact tracing give about the same results just on a different timeline.”

    The future of various methods of contact tracing will depend on the level of technological advancements, resources of the local public health agencies and counties, and most importantly the level of cooperation of citizens in a community.

    “The effectiveness of contact tracing all depends on honesty. The truth is a lot of people aren’t going to be honest about where they have been, and I think scientists need to be vigilant in getting the answers,” said Stephanie Norris, a nurse at a retirement home in Ottawa, Illinois. “It is interesting to see how each nursing home takes different safety precautions.”

    Other cities in the United States have also begun to test the newest method of contact tracing to assess its efficiency in monitoring the coronavirus.

  3. College Park braces for fall semester, influx of college students

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    In College Park, Maryland, the imminent start of the fall semester has become evident. So too, have the risks that will come with it.

    Classes are slated to begin in person at the University of Maryland-College Park on Sept. 14 after two weeks of virtual instruction. About 5,000 students are expected to move into on-campus housing beginning Aug. 27. Many of the other 30,000 undergraduates will move into local apartments off-campus, doubling the population of the town. Due to the population growth, many fear the number of students acting irresponsibly in the midst of a pandemic will cause the risk of a local COVID-19 outbreak to increase.

    “I’m really worried because it’s a situation where a small number of people could have a big impact [and] how that leads to demonization of a very large number of people,” said UMD professor and College Park resident Colin Phillips.

    The arrival of students every fall is essential for local businesses. Some businesses in College Park said they now face serious financial loss due to virtual instruction. The Hotel at UMD, which opened in 2017, was forced to close temporarily in March. It laid off 150 of its staff.

    “The little bit of business we had left, we were housing the [Maryland] football team, because they needed to be isolated to be safe, and that is gone now,” Southern Management CEO, which owns the hotel, Suzanne Hillman told Bisnow. The Big Ten Conference, of which UMD is a part, has postponed the fall sports season.

    However, the return of students raises concerns over an inevitable increase in local COVID-19 cases.

    “While on one hand, having students return to the salon could be more revenue for the salon and myself, on the other, myself or other people in the salon could be infected with COVID-19,” said Kathleen Hellington, stylist at Bananas Hair Design in College Park.

    COVID cases began to rise in Maryland in late March. As a result, UMD, like many universities nationwide, moved to virtual education for the rest of the spring semester. Prince George’s County, where College Park is located, continues to have the highest test positivity rate in the state at 5.2 percent.

    On Aug. 10, three weeks before classes were scheduled to begin, UMD President Darryll J. Pines announced that classes would start online for the first two weeks. 

    Pines told the campus community in a statement that “the health of our university community and slowing the spread of COVID-19 must remain our continuing and unwavering priorities.”

    Pines stated that students would be allowed to move in as planned, but are advised to stay in their dorms as much as possible.

    The city of College Park is also working to be proactive in preventing the spread of COVID-19 by enforcing social distancing laws.

    “I am working with city staff and both U-MD and County public safety and health officials to determine how we will enforce limits on large gatherings and occupancy restrictions in our local rental properties and our bars and restaurants,” said College Park Mayor Patrick Wojahn in his weekly update on Aug. 17.

    Prince George’s County has said it will conduct inspections of businesses through the Ambassador Program. The program will fine businesses found in violation of COVID related laws to pressure them to crack down on irresponsible student behavior. UMD has said that students found in violation of the code will be sent to the Office of Student Conduct for potential sanctions.

    Universities that have already allowed students to return to campus this fall have commonly seen a growth in COVID-19 cases. At the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, videos of students holding parties and not social distancing quickly went viral. The university recorded 135 new cases in the first week of classes and immediately shut down the campus, urging students to move back home.

    Before the UNC campus closed, Chapel Hill residents voiced their frustration to university leaders regarding irresponsible student behaviour such as fraternity parties.

    Other Maryland universities, including Johns Hopkins and Loyola University Maryland, have moved entirely virtual this fall semester, closing their campuses to students.

    The University of Maryland has created a COVID-19 dashboard on their website to publicly monitor the spread of the virus on campus in an effort to make an informed decision about reopening. 

    Still the return of students has led to some opposition.

    On Tuesday, a union of workers at Maryland universities staged a drive-by protest on the College Park campus. Protest leaders called for the University System of Maryland to issue a more comprehensive COVID-19 plan. The demands follow a union survey that found that 46 percent of respondents said they worked in areas that are not properly ventilated, increasing risk of infection, among other worrying statistics

    “I see students out together at the intersection of Route One and Knox Road every time I leave work. I see people at Cornerstone and [R. J.] Bentley’s and they don’t all seem to be wearing masks or staying six feet apart from each other,” said Hellington about students at local restaurants in downtown College Park.