(CNN) — For many schools of U.S welcoming students, the return to classes in person came to an abrupt halt after new cases of covid-19.
More than 2,000 students, teachers, and staff members in five states have been quarantined after at least 230 positive cases of coronavirus.
It’s a bleak start to the school year that many hoped could usher in a return to normalcy, but experts have long warned it would come at a cost. More studies have shown how easily children can contract and spread the coronavirus. But some pediatricians warn that distance learning has negative consequences for elementary school students and working families.
The dilemma has forced school districts to decide whether to reopen and what to do if face-to-face classes prove dangerous.
In Georgia’s Cherokee County School District, more than 1,100 students, teachers and staff members are in quarantine after COVID-19 cases were reported. The district began classes in person on August 3 and, as of Tuesday, reported 59 positive cases. The two-week quarantine period has affected more than a dozen schools.
“It doesn’t look like this was a successful reopening,” former Georgia teacher Miranda Wicker told CNN’s Don Lemon on Wednesday night. Wicker has been speaking with teachers in the district who say they have called for safety precautions, such as mask requirements, but the district has yet to make a mandatory mandate. It is up to each school to do so.
And in nearby Gwinnett County, the state’s largest school district had to quarantine staff before they opened. At least 263 employees are in quarantine after 28 confirmed cases as of August 5. School started virtually in Gwinnett County on Wednesday.
It’s a scene that has played out in Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Indiana, where school districts have also imposed quarantines. And it has left many teachers reluctant to return to the classroom.
‘I’m putting my family at risk’
For Marie Tichenor, following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines meant that seeing her students in person would be especially risky for her family.
Her husband has an autoimmune disease, she said, putting him at higher risk for serious illness from Covid-19.
“I know that as a educator of young children, it is going to be very difficult to distance yourself socially,” Tichenor told Lemon.
“Even if the children keep their mask and do not touch each other and keep two meters apart… it’s small things like the first day of school, the children cry. A child will ask me to tie his shoes. My instinctive reaction is going to get closer to that child, comfort that child, help that child.
Tichenor said he received a medical exemption to work remotely as returning to learning in person meant “putting people at risk. [su] family”. She was one of more than 400 teachers in Elizabeth, NJ, who asked her district to move to virtual learning this fall.
Cases increase among children
Over the past four weeks, there has been a 90% increase in COVID-19 cases among children, according to a new analysis from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Association of Children’s Hospitals that will be updated weekly.
Dr. Sean O’Leary, vice chair of the Committee on Infectious Diseases at the American Academy of Pediatrics, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Monday that coronavirus cases in children should be taken seriously.
“It is not fair to say that this virus is completely benign in children,” O’Leary said. «We have already had 90 deaths of children in the US in just a few months. Every year we worry about influenza in children, and there are approximately 100 deaths of children from influenza each year.
Leary said that multiple factors have led to a recent increase in the number of coronavirus infections in children in the past two weeks, including increased testing, increased movement among children and an increase in infection among the general population.
“When you see a lot more infections in the general population, you will see a lot more infections in children,” O’Leary said.
“We all have to take this virus seriously, including taking care of our children,” O’Leary said.
CNN’s Annie Grayer, Elizabeth Stuart, Jen Christensen, Lauren Mascarenhas, Christina Maxouris, and Sandee LaMotte contributed to this report.