BOSTON, Jan 14 (Reuters) – Students in Boston and Chicago planned walkouts on Friday to pressure officials to switch to remote learning, as a surge in COVID-19 cases fueled by the Omicron variant disrupts schools around the United States.
An online petition started by a Boston high school senior saying schools are a “COVID-19 breeding ground” and calling for a remote option had gathered more than 8,000 signatures as of Friday morning.
The Boston Student Advisory Council, which called for a citywide walkout on Friday morning, posted a series of demands on Twitter, including two weeks of remote learning and improved COVID-19 testing for teachers and students.
Ash O’Brien, a 10th-grade student at Boston Latin School who left the building with about a dozen others on Friday, said he didn’t feel safe staying in school.
“I live with two grandparents who are immune-compromised,” he said. “So I don’t want to go to school, risk getting sick and come home to them.”
In Chicago, a group called the Radical Youth Alliance is calling on students to walk out on Friday afternoon and make their way to the public school district’s main headquarters for a rally.
“We demand safety, and we demand care!” the group said on Twitter.
Students returned to Chicago schools on Wednesday after a week of canceled classes due to a standoff between teachers and the school district over COVID protocols. The teachers union ended its walkout after striking a deal to strengthen safeguards.
Earlier this week, students at several New York City schools staged a walkout to protest what they say are inadequate safety measures. Mayor Eric Adams said on Thursday his administration was considering a temporary remote learning option for the significant number of students who are staying home.
Nearly 5,000 public schools across the country have closed for at least one day this week due to the pandemic, according to Burbio, a website that tracks school disruptions, leaving exhausted parents scrambling to navigate a patchwork of COVID-19 policies.
The Omicron surge appears to be slowing in areas of the country that were hit first In the last week, new cases have risen only 5% in Northeastern and Southern states compared with the prior seven-day period, according to a Reuters analysis. In Western states, by contrast, the number of new cases has climbed 89% in the past week compared with the previous week.
Overall, the United States is still tallying nearly 800,000 new infections a day and record levels of hospitalized patients with COVID-19.
President Joe Biden said on Thursday he would dispatch 1,000 military health personnel beginning next week to hospitals in six states and announced the U.S. government would procure an additional 500 million COVID-19 home tests to help meet demand.
In a setback for the president, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday struck down the Biden administration’s vaccination-or-testing mandate for large businesses, ruling that the policy overstepped executive authority. The high court, however, kept in place a similar mandate for healthcare workers. (Reporting by Tim McLaughlin in Boston and Tyler Clifford in New York; additional reporting by Lisa Shumaker in Chicago and Merdie Nzanga in Washington; writing by Joseph Ax; editing by Jonathan Oatis)