NEW YORK – The US death toll from COVID-19 surpassed a grim new milestone of 250,000 lives lost on Wednesday, as New York City’s public school system, the nation’s largest, called a halt to in-classroom instruction, citing a jump in coronavirus infection rates.
As of Wednesday, COVID-19 had claimed at least 250,016 lives in the United States, which has documented about 11.5 million infections since the pandemic emerged, according to a Reuters tally of public healthcare data. The United States leads the world in both categories.
More than 1,400 of those victims perished during the past 24 hours.
The decision to shutter schools and revert exclusively to at-home learning, starting on Thursday, came as state and local officials nationwide imposed restrictions on social and economic life to tamp down a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations heading into winter.
But eight months after New York City emerged as the nation’s first major flashpoint of the epidemic – its hospitals besieged and streets virtually devoid of human activity – the epicenter of the public health crisis has shifted to the upper Midwest.
Governor Tim Walz of Minnesota, one of several states in the region dogged by the country’s highest case rates per capita, ordered all restaurants, bars, fitness centers and entertainment venues closed, and all youth sports cancelled, for four weeks.
More than 90% of hospitals’ intensive-care unit beds are already occupied in the eastern half of the state, Walz told an evening news briefing, adding: “We are at a dangerous point in this pandemic.”
The action by New York schools, announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio via Twitter, doubtless came as a relief to some teachers, many of whom have expressed fear of being placed at increased risk of exposure to the highly contagious respiratory virus.
But it will bring renewed hardship for working parents forced to make childcare arrangements once more.
New York City has seen a late-autumn resurgence of the virus after a summertime lull. Schools have been following a staggered, part-time system of classroom instruction since September, with 1.1 million students dividing their school week between in-person and online learning.
But de Blasio said all instruction would switch back to distance learning again because the positive rate on coronavirus tests in the city rose to a seven-day average of 3%, the threshold for ceasing in-person classes.
“We must fight back the second wave of COVID-19,” he said.
New York joins other large school districts in cities like Boston and Detroit that have recently canceled in-person learning.
White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany on Wednesday called the wave of new restrictions an overreach by state and local officials.
“The American people know how to protect their health,” she told Fox News in an interview. “We don’t lose our freedom in this country. We make responsible health decisions as individuals.”
Forty-one US states have reported daily record increases in COVID-19 cases in November, 20 have registered all-time highs in coronavirus-related deaths from day to day and 26 have reported peaks in hospitalizations, according to the Reuters tally. (SOURCE/REUTERS)