New York City holds off school closure as U.S. braces for virus-stricken winter

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FILE PHOTO: School busses are parked outside a school as the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Brooklyn, New York, U.S., November 13, 2020. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York City schools were set to remain open for at least another day despite a rising COVID-19 case count, the mayor said on Tuesday, as surging infections and hospitalizations in the United States from coast to coast prompted new restrictions and predictions of a difficult winter ahead.

New York, home to the nation’s largest school district, reported a 7-day positive COVID-19 test rate of 2.74% on Tuesday – more than double what it was over the summer, but below the 3% threshold that Mayor Bill de Blasio set for keeping schools open.

“Everyone’s been participating in the things that have kept schools safe. Everyone has been wearing their masks … and we need to keep doing that to do our very, very best to keep schools open,” de Blasio told reporters on Tuesday.

“We have some new challenges because of what’s going on around us,” he added.

Beyond New York City, which was the epicenter of the U.S. COVID-19 crisis in the spring, infections have reached unprecedented levels nationwide.

Forty-one U.S. states have reported record increases in COVID-19 cases in November, while 20 have seen a record rise in deaths and 26 reported record hospitalizations, according to a Reuters tally of public health data. Twenty-five states reported test positivity rates above 10% for the week ending on Sunday, Nov. 15. The World Health Organization considers a positivity rate above 5% to be concerning.

The Midwest remains the hardest-hit U.S. region. It reported 444,677 cases in the week ending on Monday, Nov. 16, 36% more than the combined cases of the Northeast and West regions.

The number of coronavirus patients hospitalized in the United States hit a record of 73,140 on Monday. Hospitalizations have increased over 46% in past 14 days, according to a Reuters tally.

New York is among several northeast states that had managed to contain the virus fairly well over the summer after a frightening spring wave, but now has one of the highest week-over-week case increases as of Sunday.

Infections have also jumped in neighboring Connecticut by more than 50% in the last week from the week prior.

“Right now we see the storm clouds coming again,” Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont, a Democrat, told MSNBC in an interview on Tuesday.

Governors of several states and city officials have imposed new restrictions on indoor gatherings in recent days in an attempt to stem the spread of the disease over the winter, with the prospect of a widely available, effective vaccine still months away.

Several have urged citizens to exercise caution around the Thanksgiving holiday and not travel or socialize with extended family for the traditional indoor feast.

“I know this is difficult & frustrating, especially with the holidays right around the corner,” Vermont Governor Phil Scott wrote on Twitter on Tuesday, referring to his ban on multihousehold gatherings. “But it’s necessary & we need your help to get this back under control.”

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter and Anurag Maan; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Maria Caspani; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

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