Justin Minkel teaches 1st and 2nd grades at Jones Elementary in Springdale, Ark., a high-performing, high-poverty school where 85 percent of the students are English-language learners. Minkel was the 2007 Arkansas Teacher of the Year. He shares his thoughts on where we are today:
“When teachers chose to give our lives to teaching, this wasn’t what we had in mind.
We knew we’d work long hours for low pay. We knew we’d navigate damaging policies crafted far from the world of the classroom.
We never anticipated being told to report to work in conditions that could sicken or kill us by politicians far removed from the risks and realities of our schools.
Across a nation with so many COVID-19 hot spots they’re starting to bleed together, teachers have had very little say on two critical questions: when and how to return to face-to-face teaching.
For many teachers facing the imminent return to school, the customary combination of nerves and excitement has been replaced by mortal terror.
That fear is far from abstract. In June, three Arizona teachers who taught remote lessons from a shared classroom contracted COVID-19. One of them, Kimberly Lopez Chavez Byrd, died.
We all went into teaching prepared to give our days and years to a demanding yet rewarding profession. But asking us to serve as guinea pigs in the most dangerous national experiment ever attempted is a bridge too far.
Cracks Into Canyons
The pandemic has stress-tested every American institution, from our economy to the social fabric of our neighborhoods. Washington Post columnist Monica Hesse wrote in a recent piece on the struggle of working moms: “The novel coronavirus has put sticks of dynamite into the cracks of our society, turning them into the canyons that must be navigated.”
One of those canyons, the fundamental inequities in our system along lines of race and class, has been ripped wide as COVID-19 ravages communities of color at wildly disproportionate rates.
In the region of Arkansas where I teach, the Latinx community has been hit hard, and half the deaths have been people from the Marshall Islands—a community that makes up only 3 percent of our region.
On the same day that my county saw 199 predominantly Latinx workers in an 1,100-person chicken- processing plant test positive for the virus, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the move to Phase 2 of reopening the state’s economy, loosening restrictions as the number of infections surged.
The pandemic’s disparate impact, wrought in part by failures of political leadership, has profound implications for the risk of infection posed to teachers who serve children of color living in poverty. Increased risk for these children and their families means greater risk for their teachers as well.
How Much Worse Will the Teacher Exodus Get?
Before the pandemic ever began, teachers had been leaving our profession at alarming rates. Sixteen percent of teachers leave the classroom every year, and half the teachers currently in the classroom have considered quitting. Tim Slekar, the dean of education at Edgewood College in Wisconsin, explains the distinction between a shortage and an exodus:
“When we have a shortage, say, of nurses, pay goes up, conditions get better, and enrollment in nursing programs skyrockets. So if we have a teacher shortage, pay would go up. It’s not. Conditions would get better. They’re not. And enrollment in teacher education would go up. It’s declining.”
Now we have a return to classrooms still fraught with the risk of infection, via policies enacted often with little input from the teachers who will take on that risk. It doesn’t take a prophet to predict a surge in the teacher exodus this school year. Twelve percent of teachers who had planned to remain in the classroom are already considering a departure from teaching because of the pandemic, according to an Education Week Research Center survey. If we see a spike in coronavirus cases as schools reopen, that number may rise dramatically.
Treating Symptoms vs. Curing the Disease
Even before the pandemic struck, the push for teacher “self-care” often seemed to address the symptoms of burnout rather than its root causes. The disconnect between prescriptions for self-care and the harsh conditions teachers face can be jarring. In the face of a mortal threat, tips like “laugh and learn from your mistakes” and “find ways to work on and improve your self-image” seem absurd.
With new infections still surging, our nation has to adequately address teachers’ concerns about whether the return to school will damage their health or even claim their lives.
So how can we avert another crisis within a crisis, a worsening teacher exodus nested within the global catastrophe wrought by COVID-19? How can school leaders help teachers care for themselves when, more than ever, their lives are on the line?
1. Provide teachers with decision-making power on when and how to resume in-person instruction.
Teachers understand the realities of the classroom. We know what kind of personal protective equipment students and staff will need when they return to face-to-face teaching. We know what’s realistic when it comes to social distancing in a kindergarten classroom, as opposed to a middle school.
We can also translate emerging knowledge about the spread of COVID-19 into practice, like planning more instruction outside and designing classrooms so that each student has their own space, distanced from other desks or even surrounded by shower curtains, where they can do their work safely.
Returning to school will inevitably be a fraught proposition. But giving teachers a say in when and how it happens could go a long way toward averting the kind of massive teacher strike or exodus that would cripple our school system.
2. Provide options.
One of the laudable responses to the pandemic has been the sensitivity and flexibility shown to families in many school districts. My own district has provided three options for the fall: in-person school, distance learning from home, and a hybrid model in which students attend school in smaller groups two or three days a week.
We need to be equally thoughtful in providing options for teachers. My school district’s leaders have offered a humane gift to every teacher in our district: the option to take a year’s leave while their job is held for the following year. Many teachers, of course, can’t afford a year without pay. But the option to teach virtually or find safer employment for a year could potentially be lifesaving, particularly for those at elevated risk.
3. Proceed with caution.
There’s a long history in education of rolling out tests, programs, and policies before they’ve been adequately researched, developed, and proven. When it comes to reopening schools, we have to base our decisions on research and proven practices, not political talking points or a fevered rush to get the economy rolling at any cost.
There’s a long history in education of rolling out tests, programs, and policies before they’ve been adequately researched, developed, and proven. When it comes to reopening schools, we have to base our decisions on research and proven practices, not political talking points or a fevered rush to get the economy rolling at any cost.
There’s plenty of emerging information on how to reopen schools safely when the time is right, from Centers for Disease Control guidance to successful models in other countries—for example, opening a limited number of days per week and waiting to reopen until the number of new cases has shown a steady decline. We have to act on that information as we make decisions about when and how to return to in-person school this year.
We have no choice but to get this right. It’s a matter of life or death.”
Most of us had never heard of the pandemic of 1918 until we ran headlong into the pandemic of 2020. So from time to time we’ve come across references to 1918. But what was it really all about? Here is an excellent article by Christine Hauser of The New York Times that is not only interesting reading, but shows us that some things–like the pushback against face masks–never change.
“As the influenza pandemic swept across the United States in 1918 and 1919, masks took a role in political and cultural wars.
The masks were called muzzles, germ shields and dirt traps. They gave people a “pig-like snout.” Some people snipped holes in their masks to smoke cigars. Others fastened them to dogs in mockery. Bandits used them to rob banks.
More than a century ago, as the 1918 influenza pandemic raged in the United States, masks of gauze and cheesecloth became the facial front lines in the battle against the virus. But as they have now, the masks also stoked political division. Then, as now, medical authorities urged the wearing of masks to help slow the spread of disease. And then, as now, some people resisted.
In 1918 and 1919, as bars, saloons, restaurants, theaters and schools were closed, masks became a scapegoat, a symbol of government overreach, inspiring protests, petitions and defiant bare-face gatherings. All the while, thousands of Americans were dying in a deadly pandemic.
The first infections were identified in March, at an Army base in Kansas, where 100 soldiers were infected. Within a week, the number of flu cases grew fivefold, and soon the disease was taking hold across the country, prompting some cities to impose quarantines and mask orders to contain it.
By the fall of 1918, seven cities — San Francisco, Seattle, Oakland, Sacramento, Denver, Indianapolis and Pasadena, Calif. — had put in effect mandatory face mask laws, said Dr. Howard Markel, a historian of epidemics and the author of “Quarantine!”
Organized resistance to mask wearing was not common, Dr. Markel said, but it was present. “There were flare-ups, there were scuffles and there were occasional groups, like the Anti-Mask League,” he said, “but that is the exception rather than the rule.”
At the forefront of the safety measures was San Francisco, where a man returning from a trip to Chicago apparently carried the virus home, according to archives about the pandemic at the University of Michigan.
By the end of October, there were more than 60,000 cases statewide, with 7,000 of them in San Francisco. It soon became known as the “masked city.”
“The Mask Ordinance,” signed by Mayor James Rolph on Oct. 22, made San Francisco the first American city to require face coverings, which had to be four layers thick.
Resisters complained about appearance, comfort and freedom, even after the flu killed an estimated 195,000 Americans in October alone.
Alma Whitaker, writing in The Los Angeles Times on Oct. 22, 1918, reviewed masks’ impact on society and celebrity, saying famous people shunned them because it was “so horrid” to go unrecognized.
“The big restaurants are the funniest sights, with all the waiters and diners masked, the latter just raising their screen to pop in a mouthful of food,” she wrote.
When Ms. Whitaker herself declined to wear one, she was “forcibly taken” to the Red Cross as a “slacker,” and ordered to make one and put it on.
The San Francisco Chronicle said the simplest type of mask was of folded gauze affixed with elastic or tape. The police went for gauze masks, which resembled an unflattering “nine ordinary slabs of ravioli arranged in a square.”
There was room for creativity. Some of the coverings were “fearsome looking machines” that lent a “pig-like aspect” to the wearer’s face.
The penalty for violators was $5 to $10, or 10 days’ imprisonment.
On Nov. 9, 1,000 people were arrested, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. City prisons swelled to standing room only; police shifts and court sessions were added to help manage.
“Where is your mask?” Judge Mathew Brady asked offenders at the Hall of Justice, where sessions dragged into night. Some gave fake names, said they just wanted to light a cigar or that they hated following laws.
Jail terms of 8 hours to 10 days were given out. Those who could not pay $5 were jailed for 48 hours.
On Oct. 28, a blacksmith named James Wisser stood on Powell and Market streets in front of a drugstore, urging a crowd to dispose of their masks, which he described as “bunk.”
A health inspector, Henry D. Miller, led him to the drugstore to buy a mask.
At the door, Mr. Wisser struck Mr. Miller with a sack of silver dollars and knocked him to the ground, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. While being “pummeled,” Mr. Miller, 62, fired four times with a revolver. Passers-by “scurried for cover,” The Associated Press said.
Mr. Wisser was injured, as were two bystanders. He was charged with disturbing the peace, resisting an officer and assault. The inspector was charged with assault with a deadly weapon.
‘To Mask or Not to Mask.’
That was the headline for a report published in The Los Angeles Times when city officials met in November to decide whether to require residents to wear “germ scarers” or “flu-scarers.”
Public feedback was invited. Some supported masks so theaters, churches and schools could operate. Opponents said masks were “mere dirt and dust traps and do more harm than good.”
“I have seen some persons wearing their masks for a while hanging about their necks, and then apply them to their faces, forgetting that they might have picked up germs while dangling about their clothes,” Dr. E.W. Fleming said in a Los Angeles Times report.
An ear, nose and throat specialist, Dr. John J. Kyle, said: “I saw a woman in a restaurant today with a mask on. She was in ordinary street clothes, and every now and then she raised her hand to her face and fussed with the mask.”
Suffragists fighting for the right to vote made a gesture that rejected covering their mouths at a time when their voices were crucial.
At the annual convention of the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association, in October 1918, they set chairs four feet apart, closed doors to the public and limited attendance to 100 delegates, the Chicago Daily Tribune reported.
But the women “showed their scorn” for masks, it said. It’s unclear why.
Allison K. Lange, an associate history professor at Wentworth Institute of Technology, said one reason could have been that they wanted to keep a highly visible profile.
“Suffragists wanted to make sure their leaders were familiar political figures,” Dr. Lange said.
San Francisco’s mask ordinance expired after four weeks at noon on Nov. 21. The city celebrated, and church bells tolled.
A “delinquent” bent on blowing his nose tore his mask off so quickly that it “nearly ruptured his ear,” The San Francisco Chronicle reported. He and others stomped on their masks in the street. As a police officer watched, it dawned on him that “his vigil over the masks was done.”
Waiters, barkeeps and others bared their faces. Drinks were on the house. Ice cream shops handed out treats. The sidewalks were strewn with gauze, the “relics of a torturous month,” The Chronicle said.
The spread had been halted. But a second wave was on the horizon.
By December, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors was again proposing a mask requirement, meeting with testy opposition.
Around the end of the year, a bomb was defused outside the office of San Francisco’s chief health officer, Dr. William C. Hassler. “Things were violent and aggressive, but it was because people were losing money,” said Brian Dolan, a medical historian at the University of California, San Francisco. “It wasn’t about a constitutional issue; it was a money issue.”
By the end of 1918, the death toll from influenza had reached at least 244,681, mostly in the last four months, according to government statistics.
In January, Pasadena’s city commission passed a mask ordinance. The police grudgingly enforced it, cracking down on cigar smokers and passengers in cars. Sixty people were arrested on the first day, The Los Angeles Times reported on Jan. 22, in an article titled “Pasadena Snorts Under Masks.”
“It is the most unpopular law ever placed on the Pasadena records,” W.S. McIntyre, the chief of police, told the paper. “We are cursed from all sides.”
Some mocked the rule by stretching gauze across car vents or dog snouts. Cigar vendors said they lost customers, though enterprising aficionados cut a hole in the cloth. (They were still arrested.) Barbers lost shaving business. Merchants complained traffic dropped as more people stayed home.
Petitions were circulated at cigar stands. Arrests rose, even of the powerful. Ernest May, the president of Security National Bank of Pasadena, and five “prominent” guests were rounded up at the Maryland Hotel one Sunday.
They had masks on, but not covering their faces.
As the contagion moved into its second year, so did the skepticism.
On Dec. 17, 1918, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors reinstituted the mask ordinance after deaths started to climb, a trend that spilled over into the new year with 1,800 flu cases and 101 deaths reported there in the first five days of January.
That board’s decision led to the creation of the Anti-Mask League, a sign that resistance to masks was resurfacing as cities tried to reimpose orders to wear them when infections returned.
The league was led by a woman, E.J. Harrington, a lawyer, social activist and political opponent of the mayor. About a half-dozen other women filled its top ranks. Eight men also joined, some of them representing unions, along with two members of the board of supervisors who had voted against masks.
“The masks turned into a political symbol,” Dr. Dolan said.
On Jan. 25, the league held its first organizational meeting, open to the public at the Dreamland Rink, where they united behind demands for the repeal of the mask ordinance and for the resignations of the mayor and health officials.
Their objections included lack of scientific evidence that masks worked and the idea that forcing people to wear the coverings was unconstitutional.
On Jan. 27, the league protested at a Board of Supervisors meeting, but the mayor held his ground. There were hisses and cries of “freedom and liberty,” Dr. Dolan wrote in his paper on the epidemic.
Repeal came a few days later on Feb. 1, when Mayor Rolph cited a downturn in infections.
But a third wave of flu rolled in late that year. The final death toll reached an estimated 675,000 nationwide, or 30 for every 1,000 people in San Francisco, making it one of the worst-hit cities in America.
Dr. Dolan said the story of the Anti-Mask League, which has drawn renewed interest now in 2020, demonstrates the disconnect between individual choice and universal compliance.
That sentiment echoes through the century from the voice of a San Francisco railway worker named Frank Cocciniglia.
Arrested on Kearny Street in January, Mr. Cocciniglia told the judge that he “was not disposed to do anything not in harmony with his feelings,” according to a Los Angeles Times report.
He was sentenced to five days in jail.
“That suits me,” Mr. Cocciniglia said as he left the stand. “I won’t have to wear a mask there.”
While it may not be written in stone anywhere, I am 100 percent convinced that one of the rules of male peaceful coexistence with the opposite sex is NEVER, EVER utter a breath about a woman’s weight.
Wayne Reynolds is on the State School Board representing Huntsville and a swath of northeast Alabama. He was elected in 2018.
However, if he knew of the rule mentioned above, he ignored it today. IN REFERRING TO GOVERNOR KAY IVEY.
The Governor had a press conference in Montgomery July 29 to discuss the coronavirus and school reopening. Reynolds watched this. And as reported here by AL.com he than blundered by going on social media and remarking that it looked like “she is gaining weight.”
OMG. Did I just read what I just read?
Apparently so because when contacted by a reporter, Reynolds tried to explain his way out of the gaffe with the comment, “I don’t know what she weights. I don’t know how much she weighs. I just made an observation.”
Which makes me think that Reynolds has forgotten another rule that goes like this. WHEN YOU ARE IN A HOLE, QUIT DIGGING.
The Governor responded, “A lady never discusses her age or her figure–a true gentleman doesn’t either.”
No doubt, Reynolds will never forget this rule again.
While Alabama has little good news regarding Covid-19, a recent article on AL.com about how a number of entities have combined efforts to make sure every student returning to a institution of higher education in the next few weeks will be tested for the virus prior to enrolling shows what we are capable of. It is interesting that I can’t find mention of any politician anywhere in this plan.
“The state of Alabama released new details Friday about its plan, called GuideSafe, to test more than 200,000 college students for COVID-19 before they return to campus this year.
“We started really less than six weeks ago, and developed in that time, a complete platform to test up to 10-15,000 students a day as they return to campus over a three and a half week period,” said Dr. Michael Saag, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
More than 50 colleges and universities in Alabama are participating in GuideSafe, which was developed by UAB, the Bruno Event Team, HudsonAlpha, the University of South Alabama and other partners.
The program will pay for coronavirus testing for all college students before they return to campus, and many schools will require a negative test result before a student can begin taking classes on campus. The program is being funded from money allocated to Alabama by the federal CARES Act legislation.
The sampling will begin in two pilot locations on Sunday and by August 4 will expand to 13 locations across the state, a remarkable feat of logistics, according to Dr. Saag and his co-chair of the GuideSafe steering committee, Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris.
Gene Hallman — president and CEO of the Bruno Event Team, which normally organizes sporting events — said the process was designed to be as easy as possible for the students.
“I would like to emphasize for the students that this will be a very convenient process, one where they schedule their appointments on the hour, so that there’s not an overload,” Hallman said. “It’s a very quick and easy, convenient and complimentary way to gauge whether you have the coronavirus.”
Saag, speaking during a press conference online on Friday afternoon, said that by limiting the number of students who show up on campus positive for the virus, the schools can help reduce the chances of outbreaks during the semester.
“What we’re doing is we’re going to try to start with as clean slate as we can, on every campus, emphasize distancing like we do for everyone, every student is going to be asked to wear a mask, as well as all the staff and the faculty on the campus to try to mitigate the spread while they’re there.”
Saag said that if the students take the proper precautions, the worst outbreaks can be avoided.
“My hope is that if everyone’s wearing a mask when they’re out and about, when they’re inside enclosed spaces, that we will start to see that number drop from 39 or so per 100,000 to where New York City is, which is only 3 per 100,000,” he said. “And when you get down to that number, then the chance of being in a room with somebody else who’s infected starts to become very, very small.”
How the testing will work
Beginning Sunday, students will receive an email at their school account asking them to schedule an appointment to be tested at one of 13 sites across the state.
Hallman said UAB had gathered data from the participating colleges on when the more than 200,000 students were returning to campus and attempted to stagger the testing appointments to minimize congestion and ensure the results come back in time.
He said students should be on the lookout for the email about testing and make sure they schedule their appointment in time.
“We cannot emphasize enough for the students to please be on the lookout for an email from their university or college regarding testing protocol regarding where they need to go and sign up,” Hallman said.
At the test sites, students will have a sample collected through a nasal swab, though not the long nasopharyngeal swab that causes significant discomfort. The program web site states that samples will be tested within 24 hours and that the students will be notified via email of the results.
Students who test positive will need to be cleared by their health care provider before returning to campus.
If a student has previously tested positive for the virus, they will not need to be re-tested if they have documentation from their health care provider that they are clear to return to campus. Students can also choose to be tested on their own, though the state will only pay for testing done through the program.
Out-of-state students and those who are returning to campus the earliest may be sent a mail-in test kit and instructions on how to sample themselves rather than having them travel to one of the test sites.
Saag said samples from multiple students — five to 10 at a time, depending on the circumstances — will be combined. If the pooled sample tests negative, all the students in the pool are negative. If the pooled sample tests positive, the lab can then test the individual samples to find which students in the pool are positive.
“By doing that approach, we believe that we can amplify the power of the testing that we do,” Saag said.
The pooled test approach saves time and material if there aren’t many positive tests.
”The thing that will throw us off is if the prevalence in the community of students is over 4%,” Saag said. “We don’t anticipate that based on preliminary data that we have so far, but it’s very fluid, and we’ll have to see what we get.”
Program could expand
Saag said the protocols being developed for this program were designed so they could be used by other entities such as private businesses to bring workers back into the fold as safely as possible, or by the Alabama Department of Public Health to respond to COVID hotspots in the state.
Inexplicably this country continues to show the rest of the world what gross incompetence looks like when dealing with a national public health crisis. Had we had this caliber leadership in WWII, we would have fought our enemies with bows and arrows.
Given this situation, 150 health experts wrote an open letter to U.S. leaders.
‘An open letter to America’s decision makers, on behalf of health professionals across the
Dear decision makers,
Hit the reset button.
Of all the nations in the world, we’ve had the most deaths from COVID-19. At the same
time, we’re in the midst of “reopening our economy,” exposing more and more people to
coronavirus and watching numbers of cases — and deaths — skyrocket.
In March, people went home and stayed there for weeks, to keep themselves and their
neighbors safe. You didn’t use the time to set us up to defeat the virus. And then you
started to reopen anyway, and too quickly.
Right now we are on a path to lose more than 200,000 American lives by November 1st.
Yet, in many states people can drink in bars, get a haircut, eat inside a restaurant, get a
tattoo, get a massage, and do myriad other normal, pleasant, but non-essential
Get our priorities straight.
More than 117,000 Americans had died of COVID-19 by mid-June. If our response had
been as effective as Germany’s, estimates show that we would have had only 36,000
COVID-19 deaths in that period in the United States. If our response had been as
effective as South Korea, Australia, or Singapore’s, fewer than 2,000 Americans would
have died. We could have prevented 99% of those COVID-19 deaths. But we didn’t.
The best thing for the nation is not to reopen as quickly as possible, it’s to save as many
lives as possible. And reopening before suppressing the virus isn’t going to help the
economy. Economists have gone on record saying that the only way to “restore the
economy is to address the pandemic itself,” pointing out that until we find a way to
boost testing and develop and distribute a vaccine, open or not, people will not be in the
mood to participate.
Listen to the experts.
Public health professionals have made clear that even after we’ve contained the virus by
staying at home, in order to reopen American cities and towns safely, we will need:
— Enough daily testing capacity to test everyone with flu-like symptoms plus
anyone they have been in close contact with over the last 2 weeks (at least 10 additional
tests per symptomatic person). We currently have only 35% of the testing capacity we
need to meet that threshold. The more people get sick, the more testing is required.
— A workforce of contact tracers large enough to trace all current cases. That’s
210,000 more contact tracers than we had in April, but the number keeps going up as
infections rise. Most states are far short of the number of contact tracers they need.
In addition, we need more personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep essential
workers like health professionals, emergency responders, and grocery store clerks safe.
Shut it down now, and start over.
Non-essential businesses should be closed. Restaurant service should be limited to
take-out. People should stay home, going out only to get food and medicine or to
exercise and get fresh air. Masks should be mandatory in all situations, indoors and
outdoors, where we interact with others.
We need that protocol in place until case numbers recede to a level at which we have
the capacity to effectively test and trace. Then, and only then, we can try a little more
opening, one small step at a time.
You should bar non-essential interstate travel. When people travel freely between states,
the good numbers in one state can go bad quickly.
If you don’t take these actions, the consequences will be measured in widespread
suffering and death.
We need you to lead.
Tell the American people the truth about the virus, even when it’s hard. Take bold action
to save lives — even when it means shutting down again.
Unleash the resources needed to contain the virus: massively ramping up testing,
building the necessary infrastructure for effective contact tracing, and providing a
safety net for those who need it.
Many of the actions of our government thus far have fallen short of what the moment
demands. Mr. Trump, federal administration, honorable governors: we remind you that
history has its eyes on you.
As some have noticed, I am not above passing stuff along from the internet I find especially meaningful. The article below is one since it does a good job of detailing how Massachusetts, New Jersey, Vermont, Connecticut and New York have managed to get a handle on Covid-19, after early on being in the eye of this virus storm. As you read, think of what has transpired in Alabama as compared to these states.
For example, New Jersey mandated face masks on April 8. Alabama did today, July 15.
And with this pandemic becoming so highly politicized, it is noteworthy that Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut and New York are considered “blue” states, while Vermont is a “swing” state. Funny that I don’t recall Fox News mentioning this.
When Covid-19 suddenly ravaged New York, hospitals looked “apocalyptic.” Refrigerated trucks turned into morgues because there wasn’t enough space for all the victims.
That was March. Three months later, the state had “done a full 180, from worst to first,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.
Now, the rates of infection, hospitalizations or deaths have plummeted in New York and several other states — paving the way for full economic reopenings.
It’s the opposite of what’s happening in most of the US, where the virus is surging and more than half the states have paused or backtracked their reopenings.
Here’s how some states have helped get coronavirus under control — and what they’re doing to make sure it stays that way:
How much the state has improved:
Connecticut has consistently had one of the lowest rates of transmission (R numbers) of any state in the country. An R number represents how many people each infected person is likely to go on and infect, on average.
Connecticut has an R number of about 0.90. That means fewer and fewer people are getting infected in the state.
And the number of new deaths has plummeted since April 26, when the seven-day average of daily deaths was 113. That number has stayed below 5 every day since July 2, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
How they tried to get their numbers down:
Connecticut started mandating face masks statewide on April 20.
Many other states didn’t start requiring masks until two months later.
It also reopened later than many states, starting on May 20.
And like New York and New Jersey, Connecticut has required visitors from states with high rates of Covid-19 to quarantine for 14 days
How they’re planning to keep a lid on the virus:
Even though Connecticut had some of the best numbers in the nation, Gov. Ned Lamont decided not to move forward with Phase 3 reopening plans on July 6. That meant bars will remain closed, and restaurants must stay at 50% capacity.
“Look, I like a beer at the bar as much as the next person. I know how frustrating this can be,” Lamont said. “But right now, with this pandemic flaring up in a majority of other states, this is not the time to take a risk.”
Lamont also said the state would hold off on allowing outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people.
CDC director: The ‘most powerful weapon’ against Covid-19 is social distancing
How much the state improved:
New York started Phase 2 of its reopening on May 29, allowing office-based work, in-store retail shopping and some barbershop services to resume in much of the state.
And between May 29 and July 10, average daily new cases in New York state has dropped about 55% — from about 1,447 new cases a day to 651 cases a day, according to data from Johns Hopkins.
New York has by far the most Covid-19 deaths in the country, with more than 32,000 since the pandemic began.
On Monday, New York City reported no new deaths from Covid-19 for the first time in months.
What New York state did:
On March 20, as Covid-19 was spiraling out of control in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced all employees of nonessential businesses must stay home. It was one of the earliest shutdown mandates in the country.
“If someone is unhappy, if somebody wants to blame someone, or complain about someone, blame me. There is no one else who is responsible for this decision,” Cuomo said that day. “This is not life as usual. And accept it and realize it and deal with it.”
And at a time when testing was scarce across the country, New York tried to ramp up capabilities on its own. With FDA approval, New York state announced on March 13 it could authorize 28 public and private labs to start testing for coronavirus — the first state to do so.
“We’re hunting positives,” Cuomo said in March. “We’re hunting positives so we can isolate them and reduce the spread.”
New Yorkers tuned into Cuomo’s daily briefings for updates on the virus and how to stay safe. During his 111th and final daily briefing on June 19, Cuomo said the state had gone “from worst to first.”
He credited residents who followed guidance, stayed home, and wore masks when they had to go out in public.
“This wasn’t only about what government did. This was about what people did,” Cuomo said. “Together, New Yorkers bent the curve because we acted responsibly and we looked out for each other. Now we must stay the course.”
How they’re planning to stay the course:
As a popular tourist destination, New York is trying to prevent visitors from spreading the virus. So anyone coming from a state where coronavirus is surging must quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.
“The quarantine applies to any person arriving from a state with a positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents over a 7-day rolling average or a state with a 10% or higher positivity rate over a 7-day rolling average,” the governor’s office said.
As of Tuesday, 22 states were on that travel advisory. Those arriving at a New York airport must fill out a traveler form.
“Travelers who leave the airport without completing the form will be subject to a $2,000 fine and may be brought to a hearing and ordered to complete mandatory quarantine,” the governor’s office said.
New York also released concrete metrics for when to allow schools to reopen, and when classes would need to go virtual if the situation gets worse.
While some have accused Cuomo of prematurely taking a victory lap, the governor’s website stresses the fight is not over:
“Coronavirus is still active in New York,” the top of the website reads. “We have to be smart. Wear a mask and maintain 6 feet distance in public.”
How much the state improved:
Massachusetts started reopening on May 25. But since then, the rate of new cases has gone down, not up.
Between May 25 and July 10, the rate of daily new cases in Massachusetts has dropped by 75%, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Between April 15 and July 14, Covid-19 hospitalizations have dropped by about 84%, and the rate of new deaths has dropped by about 95%, according to data from the Massachusetts Department of Health.
How they helped quell coronavirus:
Massachusetts waited to start reopening and was one of the last states to do so.
It also enacted a mask mandate before most other states did, on May 6. But unlike some states, the mandate in Massachusetts also applies to outdoor public areas where it might not be possible to stay 6 feet away from others.
How they’re planning to keep Covid-19 under control:
Massachusetts is doubling down on testing to try to snuff out coronavirus in the state.
This month, Gov. Charlie Baker announced a “Stop the Spread” testing initiative that will last until mid-August.
The effort will focus on eight communities where the rates of Covid-19 are higher than the statewide average.
“The goal of this initiative is to provide widespread asymptomatic testing in an easy-to-access location within these communities” to help stop community spread, Baker said.
And Massachusetts is aiming to resume classroom education this fall — but with face masks and distancing rules.
“Students in grade 2 and above are required to wear a mask/face covering that covers their nose and mouth,” according to initial guidance from the state education department. The same applies to teachers and staff members.
For those unable to wear a mask, face shields may be used. And mask breaks should occur throughout the day if there’s adequate distancing or ventilation.
How the state has improved:
New Jersey was hit hard early in this pandemic, with hospitalizations and deaths soaring. The state has the highest rate of Covid-19 deaths per capita: 175 per 100,000 people.
But now, New Jersey is among just a handful of states on track to contain Covid-19, according to CovidActNow.org, which tracks each state in four key areas: the infection rate, the test positivity rate, hospital capacity and contact tracing ability.
While testing has increased, the rate of new cases has decreased. New Jersey now has a test positivity rate of about 1.3%.
And the rate of transmission (Rt) is about 0.91, which means fewer and fewer people are getting infected.
How New Jersey helped changed its course:
In mid-March, Gov. Phil Murphy activated the National Guard and issued sweeping orders, including:
— The closure of all schools and universities starting on March 18
— The closure of all casinos, racetracks, theaters and gyms
— The closure of all nonessential retail, recreational and entertainment businesses after 8 p.m. each day
New Jersey was the first state to issue a mask mandate, back on April 8.
Businesses must provide masks to employees and deny entry to any customer who refuse to wear them inside the business. Those riding public transit in the state must also wear face masks.
New Jersey also joined forces with New York and Connecticut on requiring visitors from hot-spot states to quarantine for 14 days.
How New Jersey is trying to keep Covid-19 under control:
Officials are urging residents not to get complacent just because the numbers have improved.
“Our rate of transmission is in a good place today, but only a week ago … it was above 1.0,” the governor said Monday.
“And if we change course, it’s going to not only rise, but so will the number of positive test results, so will the number of hospitalizations, and so will the number, sadly, of residents who pass.”
How well the state is doing:
Vermont has the lowest test positivity rate in the nation — 0.78% as of Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University.
It also has the 3rd lowest number of coronavirus cases per capita and the 10th lowest Covid-19 death rate of any state.
How they helped keep their numbers low:
Contact tracing has steadily improved in Vermont — from an average of 2.7 contacts made per case in April to 4.8 contacts made per case in June.
As of last week, “2,469 contacts have been identified,” the Vermont Department of Health said. “172 contacts became a COVID-19 case. This means that this group of people knew to stay home, and likely did not spread the virus further.”
How they’re planning to keep Covid-19 under control:
When schools reopen this fall, “All staff and students are required to wear facial coverings while in the building, as well as outside where physical distancing cannot be maintained,” according to guidance issued last month by state health and education officials. That guidance could change before the school year starts.
And despite having the lowest test positivity rate in the country, Vermont’s state of emergency will be extended for another month, Gov. Phil Scott announced Tuesday.
“It’s the vehicle we need to keep certain protections in place (and) control outbreaks as they come up, so we can keep the economy open and manage this ongoing crisis,” Scott said.
“As long as the data stays consistent, we will stick with our effort to incrementally lift restrictions and get closer to a point where this order is no longer necessary.”