School districts shift to remote learning amid staff shortages; Djokovic faces deportation again: COVID-19 updates

School districts shift to remote learning amid staff shortages; Djokovic faces deportation again: COVID-19 updates

As COVID-19 cases skyrocket among teachers, school officials in Indiana, Michigan, North Carolina and Nevada announced this week they would temporarily close or shift to remote learning amid worsening teacher shortages.

In Indiana, at least four Marion County school districts have shifted to remote learning. Indianapolis Public Schools said Wednesday the decision “has been made based on the number of staff absences, including COVID-19 isolation and quarantines at the middle and high school levels.”

North Carolina has resorted to allowing state employees to use their allotted volunteer days to fill in as paid substitute teachers, Gov. Roy Cooper announced Wednesday. In Nevada, all schools in Carson City School District were closed for part of this week because of a surge in staff members getting infected with COVID-19.

Maryland’s largest school district asked the National Guard to fill in for bus drivers after staffing surges led to the cancellation of 40 to 80 bus routes, ABC News reported.

Also in the news:

►As some experts say the current COVID-19 wave may be peaking, new coronavirus cases ticked down slightly for the second time this week. The U.S. reported some 5.51 million cases in the week ending Thursday, down from a revised 5.53 million in the week ending Wednesday, a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins University data shows. 

Roughly one in five hospitals reported having “critical staff shortages” in data released Wednesday by the Department of Health and Human Services, a USA TODAY analysis found. One in four anticipated critical shortages within the next week. 

►President Joe Biden announced Thursday that the government will double to 1 billion the rapid, at-home COVID-19 tests to be distributed free to Americans.

►U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office apologized Friday to the royal family for holding a late-night staff party the day before Queen Elizabeth II sat alone and mourned her late Prince Philip in a socially distanced funeral service due to the country’s COVID-19 rules.

►New York’s eviction moratorium, which protected hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who were late on payments due to hardships during the COVID-19 pandemic from eviction, expires Saturday.

►More than half a million people in Israel have received a fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, the country’s health ministry said Friday.

►Cruise lines will no longer be obliged to follow COVID-19 guidance on ships as the CDC’s Framework for Conditional Sailing Order, which was extended and modified in October, will expire Saturday.

📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 63.9 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 846,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 319 million cases and nearly 5.5 million deaths. More than 208 million Americans – 62.8% – are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

📘What we’re reading: When will this COVID surge end? Scientists search your sewage for clues.

Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY’s free Coronavirus Watch newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

Students walk out over COVID safety, call schools a ‘petri dish’

As teachers unions and schools battle over in-person and remote learning, students nationwide are demanding a seat at the table. Many are staging walkouts this week, including Boston on Friday.

“We are the ones who have been in this environment every day. It’s our bodies that we’re putting at risk,” said Kayla Quinlan, a 16-year-old student activist at Boston Day and Evening Academy. “Students should have a say in what their learning environment looks like, but our voices are always left out.”

Students at schools across the Boston Public Schools system walked out around 10:30 a.m. Friday, the Boston Globe and NBC Boston confirmed.

While specific demands vary across districts, students’ requests largely center around allowing remote learning options as an alternative for those worried about coming to school, rather than shutting classrooms down altogether. Student coalitions that have advocated for shifting fully to remote have only called to do so temporarily if schools do not enforce stricter COVID-19 precautions, including more frequent testing and higher-quality masks.

“It feels like a breeding ground for COVID, like a COVID petri dish,” Quinlan added. “How are you supposed to feel safe?”

Novak Djokovic faces deportation again after Australian government revokes his visa a second time

Tennis star Novak Djokovic faces deportation again after the Australian government revoked his visa for a second time.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said Friday he used his ministerial discretion to revoke the 34-year-old Serb’s visa on public interest grounds three days before the Australian Open is to begin. Djokovic’s lawyers are expected to appeal the cancelation in the Federal Circuit and Family Court as they successfully did after the first cancellation.

Djokovic arrived in Melbourne last week to defend his Australian Open title. His exemption from a COVID-19 vaccination requirement to compete was approved by the Victoria state government and Tennis Australia, the tournament organizer. That apparently allowed him to receive a visa to travel.

But the Australian Border Force rejected the exemption and canceled his visa upon arrival in Melbourne. Djokovic spent four nights in an immigration detention hotel before a judge on Monday overturned that decision.

— The Associated Press

Center for COVID Control to ‘pause’ nationwide testing sites

A coronavirus testing company under investigation by the Oregon Department of Justice and which has drawn criticism from customers in several states announced Thursday a “one-week pause on all operations.”

The pause was expected to take effect Friday through Jan. 21 at all Center for COVID Control testing sites. The Illinois-based company’s website says it has more than 300 locations in the U.S. across several states. Two of those, Massachusetts and Washington, took action this week to shut down several of the company’s testing centers in their communities.

In an internal company memo addressed to “all location owners and managers” and obtained by USA TODAY, the Center for COVID Control cited “increased scrutiny by the media into the operations of our collection sites” over the past week. The company says it processes 80,000 test requests per day.

“This, coupled with various customer complaints, resulted in various state health departments and even Department of Justice taking a keen interest in our company,” the notice said. 

— Grace Hauck, USA TODAY

Supreme Court blocks COVID-19 vaccine-or-testing mandate for workplaces

The Supreme Court on Thursday halted enforcement of one of President Joe Biden’s signature efforts to combat COVID-19, ruling that his administration doesn’t have the authority to impose vaccine-or-testing requirements on employers that would have covered tens of millions of Americans.

The unsigned opinion, which came days after the justices heard arguments in the emergency appeal, marked the second time the nation’s highest court unwound a pandemic policy of the Biden administration, again concluding that federal officials exceeded the power given to them by Congress. The court blocked Biden’s eviction moratorium in August, ruling that it also was an overreach.

At issue in the workplace case was whether the Occupational Safety and Health Administration had the power to impose the requirements under a 1970 law.  

It was not immediately clear what, if any, options the Biden administration has to respond to the ruling. In a statement, the president said he was “disappointed,” and it was “now up to states and individual employers to determine whether to make their workplaces as safe as possible for employees.” Read more here about what could be next for Biden’s vaccine campaign.

— John Fritze, USA TODAY

Contributing: Celina Tebor, USA TODAY; The Associated Press



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