By Peter Szekely and Dan Whitcomb
NEW YORK/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) -New York City and Los Angeles, the two largest U.S. public school districts, on Monday announced plans to fully reopen schools, part of a parent-led nationwide trend amid a sustained decline in COVID-19 infections and rise in vaccinations.
“It’s time for everyone to come back, it’s time for us all to be together, time to do things the way they were meant to be done,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told a news briefing.
The city’s 1.1 million public school students have adopted different learning practices so far this year. Some have split their time between school and home, while others are still being taught full time by “remote learning”. Neither of those options will be offered as of September, de Blasio said.
In Los Angeles County, all students in elementary, middle and high schools – more than 600,000 pupils – would be allowed to attend class full time, said district superintendent Austin Beutner. However, students and some teachers would have the option to remain at home, he said.
“We expect the vast majority of students, teachers and staff to be at school every day but recognize that we must provide the online opportunity for those who need it,” Beutner said.
United Teachers Los Angeles, the union representing most teachers in the district, has resisted fully reopening schools until additional health and safety measures are in place.
New York and Los Angeles join New Jersey and several other states reopening schools as officials make progress tackling the spread of the coronavirus.
Nationwide, the number of new infections fell to a seven-day average of 22,877 on Sunday, the lowest since June and less than one-tenth of its post-holiday peak of more than 250,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Nearly half of the U.S. population has had at least one dose of a vaccine, according to the CDC. In New York, 52% of residents have had at least one shot, Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Monday.
The pace of vaccinations has been trailing off to a seven-day average of about 1.7 million doses a day, according to the CDC data, from its April peak of about 3.3 million.
BALLGAMES AND BROADWAY
The decline in infections has prompted political leaders to offer an array of incentives, such as free tickets to ballgames and lotteries, including New York State’s $5 million “Vax & Scratch” game.
De Blasio on Monday upped the state’s ante by adding weekly drawings of prizes, including Broadway shows, hotel packages and one-year gym memberships for residents who get vaccinated at city-run sites through early July.
He also announced that late-night comedian Stephen Colbert will resume taping “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” in front of a live, vaccinated New York audience on June 14.
Given the declining number of new COVID-19 cases, de Blasio said he expected the CDC to relax its current guidelines that require students to maintain social distancing of 3 feet (1 meter) before the start of the next school year.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy last week said his state’s indoor mask mandate would be lifted starting May 28 and restrictions on outdoor gatherings would end on June 4.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration this month approved the Pfizer Inc coronavirus vaccine for children as young as 12 years old, and Moderna Inc said it planned to seek approval of its vaccine for children, as well.
(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Matthew Lewis and Jane Wardell)