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Monday, March 16, 2020

Liz Watson: Coronavirus Prevention That Works For Working People

It should not take a terrifying national emergency for us to wake up to the realization that we all pay the price when we treat people like they don’t matter.
America isn’t ready for coronavirus. In the last 24 hours, millions of school children across the country have been told to stay home for two weeks, or even longer. This is an important public health step to stop the spread, but it also means parents can’t go to work. 
I’m fixing lunch for a 9 and 12-year-old as I write this. And I’m one of the lucky ones who is able to telecommute. Millions of Americans are not so lucky. 
In addition to the countless schools and businesses that are moving to telecommuting or closures, we’re also hearing from the CDC that if you are sick you should stay home, other than to seek medical treatment. 
Likewise, the nearly 90 million Americans who are uninsured or underinsured are already sick with worry that if they contract the coronavirus they won’t be able to get treatment. 
This pandemic threatens to go from very bad to a whole lot worse simply because of our chronic disinvestment in the health and economic security of millions of Americans. The level of danger and risk we now face is directly related to our policy failures. 
Democrats in Congress are moving as fast they can on a policy response to the coronavirus that puts our health and safety first with paid sick days, enhanced unemployment insurance, food security, strong protections for frontline workers, widespread and free coronavirus testing, anti-price gouging protections from surprise medical billing, and increased capacity for the medical system. 
The reality is that these are all things that progressives have spent a very long time fighting for--guaranteed health care, paid sick days and family leave, an end to surprise medical billing, and a strong social safety net. Republicans, on the other hand, have blocked them at every turn. 
And now we’re seeing the fallout from Republican indifference to low-income and middle-class families in real-time: A Pennsylvania man and his young daughter were recently evacuated from Wuhan, China. When his daughter started coughing, they did the responsible thing and went to the hospital to get checked out. They were quarantined for a few days and ultimately tested negative for the virus. When the medical bill for $3,918 arrived, he was stunned.  Almost 40 percent of people in the U.S. can’t afford a $400 emergency bill, let alone nearly $4,000. How many times has this scene played out already at kitchen tables across America? 
Just the other day, a family member told me her prescriptions were filled by a pharmacy tech who sneezed her way through the transaction. When asked why she didn’t go home to rest, the pharmacy tech said, "They won't let me." How many vulnerable people were exposed to cold or flu, or potentially worse, by that one pharmacy tech? Seven in ten low-wage workers can't take time off to go to the doctor when they are sick or stay home from work without putting their jobs on the line. This is playing out in restaurants, stores, and yes, even pharmacies all across America.
When the 2008 recession hit, we engineered a massive bank bailout. If we can bail out the banks in a matter of days, we can provide guaranteed health care and workplace protections that our fellow Americans need to stay healthy and avoid getting the rest of us sick. We’ve also got to learn the lessons of 2008 and make sure we bail out the people who need it most.  The economic stimulus should focus on low- and middle-income families, not tax giveaways or poorly structured bailouts that help Wall Street but leave Main Street in the dust. 
When it comes to a highly contagious virus-like COVID-19 (or the flu for that matter), we’re all in this together. We have to make it possible for everyone to actually follow the CDC’s advice. That’s why Congress and the Trump administration must take action to ensure everyone can get tested, everyone has the guaranteed health care they need to get treated, everyone can stay home if they or a loved one are sick, and everyone can survive an economic slowdown. 
It should not take a terrifying national emergency for us to wake up to the realization that we all pay the price when we treat people like they don’t matter. Medicare for All, paid family leave, universal child care, a robust social safety net. These things are not a wish list. They are essentials. Now is the time to put the basic foundation in place that will make us all safer and more secure in good times, and more resilient when disaster strikes. 
Liz Watson is the executive director of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Center. She is the former labor policy director of the House Education and Labor Committee and a former Democratic nominee for Congress in Indiana’s 9th Congressional district. 

National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Temporarily Closes Offices in Manhattan, Detroit and Chicago

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Temporary Closure of Three Regional Offices Due to Possible COVID-19 Exposures

Effective immediately, the National Labor Relations Board’s offices in Manhattan, Detroit, and Chicago will be closed temporarily while an employee in each of these offices is tested for COVID-19. The Agency is taking this step to ensure the health and safety of our employees and the public.
Telework-ready employees in these offices were previously scheduled to telework on Monday, March 16. Under today’s announcement, all employees in these offices will telework until notified otherwise. Regional personnel will continue to handle unfair labor practice investigations and processing representation petitions. All hearings scheduled in these offices for Monday, March 16 are postponed. Additional guidance regarding future hearings and elections will be issued tomorrow (Monday). Parties should continue to e-file documents, as required by GC- 20-01.
Individuals needing immediate assistance from Region 2, Manhattan may contact Region 29, Brooklyn at (718) 330-7713
Individuals needing immediate assistance from Region 7, Detroit may contact the Grand Rapids Resident Office at (616) 456-2679
Individuals needing immediate assistance from Region 13, Chicago may contact SubRegion 30, Milwaukee at (414) 297-3861
NLRB Leadership continues to monitor and assess the impact of COVID-19 on Agency operations and will continue to keep our staff and the public informed of any developments.
Established in 1935, the National Labor Relations Board is an independent federal agency that protects employees, employers, and unions from unfair labor practices and protects the right of private sector employees to join together, with or without a union, to improve wages, benefits and working conditions. The NLRB conducts hundreds of workplace elections and investigates thousands of unfair labor practice charges each year.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Harford County Public Schools in Maryland Close For Two Weeks But Will Be Providing Meals For Students

Harford County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Sean Bulson talks about precautions the school system is taking and condsidering during a news conference Monday afternoon in Bel Air.
(Matt Button / The Aegis/Baltimore Sun Media)
Harford schools treating 2-week coronavirus closure like ‘summer break,’ will arrange to feed students starting Tuesday
by S. Wayne Carter, Jr., THE AEGIS,  Baltimore Sun, March 13, 2020

An instructional packet will be sent home with Harford County Public School’s students today and the school system plans to begin providing meals for students in need starting Tuesday, as school systems around Maryland figure out how to determine student needs as schools close for two weeks starting Monday to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Specifics on where food services will be provided was still being determined by midday Friday, Harford Schools Superintendent Sean Bulson said. HCPS is using its summer meals program as a basis but will build off that to make sure they reach more students.

“We have some sites where we deliver food that addresses places with the highest concentration of students [receiving] free and reduced meals but it doesn’t really cover the whole district,” Bulson said. “We’ve mapped out where all of our students are in the county, and so we’re just coming up with creative ways to make sure we get food to as many of them as possible.”

Bulson said the school system is planning to operate during the two-week period the same way it would during summer break.

“Essentially, our 12-month employees work — at the school level that means principals, 12-month secretaries, assistant principals and custodial staff. It’s the majority of Central Office,” he said.

Eleven-month employees, which includes school psychologists, may be asked to work during that time. A notice from the school system said they should await further instruction from their supervisors. Ten-month employees, which includes teachers, will not report to work starting Monday.

“Our teachers are not working during this break until we get some other direction,” Bulson said.

All 10- and 12-month employees will continue to be paid during the closures, according to the notice from the school system.

Beyond that two weeks, though, school system officials still have plenty of questions, including how 10 days schools are closed between March 16 and March 27 are going to count against the 180 days of instruction that are required.

“We don’t know if we’re going to need to make them all up; if they’re going to be treated like snow days where we make up the ones we can and then apply for a waiver, because we also don’t know how long this is going to be,” Bulson said. “We have a window, but we suspect there will be a reassement period at the end.”

So, central office staff will spend much of the next two weeks planning for all of those eventualities, he said.

“If we return in two weeks, what will that look like? How will we provide the service? There is a chance we’ll be dealing with high absentee rates, both in staff and students, if some people are concerned about returning. That’s something we’ll have to be prepared for,” Bulson said.

Should the closures be extended longer, HCPS staff is working on how to better deliver instruction to students.

“Our preliminary plans are very general just to keep kids working a little bit, but they aren’t really focused as we would hope to keep kids moving forward in the curriculum,” Bulson said.

Packets sent home with students Friday and available on the HCPS are not intended to introduce any new material, “it’s just to keep kids’ minds active,” Bulson said.

Instructional services staff started developing the packets on Wednesday, “but our hope was to be able to distribute them by today, but we thought we were doing it in anticipation of a later closing,” Bulson said.

The work was expedited once school system’s learned Thursday that the closures would begin next week and the print shop worked until 5 a.m. Friday to produce that packets so that each student would receive a hard copy, because the school system doesn’t have data regarding internet availability for all students, he said.

“We wanted to make sure everybody was able to bring something home,” Bulson said.

Teachers were not asked to produce any of the materials, but that may change if closures are extended.

“If this extends longer, we’re going to need to have a clearer instructional plan and that’s something we’ll be working very aggressively during this two-week closure," he said.

The school system is also working toward finding ways to pay its per diem employees, such as long-term substitutes, home and hospital teachers, and some food service workers, who typically wouldn’t get paid during inclement weather or similar closure.

“If possible, we want to make sure people don’t have these big gaps in income if we can help it," Bulson said. "That’s the spirit we’re approaching this with, but we still have some problem solving to do and figuring out who is affect so we can make sure we’re doing everything we can to make sure our employees don’t suffer as well.”

During the closure, all buildings and school buses will be cleaned and disinfected, according to an email from Jillian Lader, a spokeswoman for the school system.
Wayne Carter is a senior content editor in the Baltimore Sun Media Group's community newsroom, overseeing The Aegis and The Record in Harford County, where he grew up. Wayne previously was the editor of the Carroll County Times, where he worked for 12 years. He graduated from Salisbury University in 2002.

Resources For Information on the Coronavirus and Higher Education

From Inside Higher Ed:

Coronavirus and Higher Education

Roundup of news about how higher education is coping with initial U.S. impacts of the coronavirus outbreak, and how colleges are preparing for a dizzying array of likely disruptions.

Paul Fain
March 6, 2020

This week U.S. colleges grappled with the initial impacts of the novel coronavirus outbreak in this country, even as they continued to deal with complications over international travel and to prepare for a dizzying array of likely disruptions in coming weeks and months.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sunday issued guidance recommending that colleges “consider” postponing or canceling student foreign exchange programs and asking students to return to the U.S.

Many institutions have canceled spring break trips and study abroad programs in China, Italy, South Korea and other countries where large numbers of people have COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. That trend accelerated throughout the week. New York University, for example, canceled all nonessential international university travel.

However, the vague wording in the CDC statement confused many in higher education. Some college leaders, for example, wondered if the guidance applied to foreign exchange students hosted by U.S. institutions as well as Americans studying abroad.

Some clarity came Tuesday when the president of NAFSA: Association of International Educators issued a statement saying the group had confirmed with the CDC that the guidance was not intended to apply to international students studying in the U.S.
Meanwhile, 76 percent of U.S. colleges said last month that recruitment of students from China has been affected by the coronavirus, according to the results of a survey the Institute of International Education conducted in February. Among responding institutions, 70 percent said they were evacuating students from China. And 94 percent said study abroad programs in China had been canceled or postponed.
Domestic Travel and Conference Cancellations
More than 210 U.S. cases of the virus had been confirmed by Thursday afternoon, with 12 deaths. Most of the cases were on the West Coast, and almost all the deaths have been in the Seattle area. So far California, Washington and Florida have declared states of emergency due to concerns over the coronavirus.
Some college officials have begun preparing for limitations on domestic travel.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was among the first to restrict university-affiliated travel for students, faculty and staff members to locations in the U.S. where a state of emergency has been declared related to the coronavirus. The university also strongly discouraged personal travel to these areas.
“Given the rapidly changing nature of the virus, if you choose to travel to these affected areas you may be asked to undergo a 14-day self-quarantine off-campus upon return,” the university said in a statement.
Brandman University on Thursday announced that faculty and staff members were "generally prohibited" from traveling by air to conduct university business -- both domestically or internationally -- through the end of April. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology this week suspended international travel on MIT business for all students and employees. The institute asked all community members to log any travel outside of the state in a travel registry.
MIT also this week said any in-person MIT event with more than 150 likely attendees between now and May 15 must be canceled, postponed or converted to a virtual gathering.
Many higher education-related organizations faced uncertainty about conferences they were scheduled to host in coming weeks and months. Some have made the call to cancel or take precautions for those who might attend.
The American Physical Society on Saturday announced that it would cancel its annual meeting, which had 10,000 expected attendees and was slated to begin Monday in Denver. Some attendees had traveled long distances to get to Denver, sparking criticism on social media about the late cancellation notice.
On Sunday, Educause canceled its meeting on advanced learning technology that had been scheduled to begin Monday in Bellevue, Wash. And Ellucian, a higher education software firm, on Tuesday canceled its Ellucian Live 2020 event in Orlando, Fla., instead offering a free online version to 2,700 expected attendees.
Organizers of the ASU GSV Summit, which is scheduled to begin in San Diego at the end of March, announced this week that the conference would conduct mandatory temperature screenings for all attendees. The summit also will not admit attendees from China, South Korea, Iran or Italy and will “strongly encourage” a no-handshake policy -- a move likely to spread across higher education.
More Guidance From Feds, ACHA
Traditional-age college students face relatively low risks of dying from COVID-19, which is considered most dangerous for people over 60.
Yet college campuses could play an outsize role in helping to spread the coronavirus, given their dense concentrations of people, heavily used public spaces and large numbers of frequent travelers. Colleges also employ older faculty and staff members, and officials were scrambling this week to minimize health risks posed even to younger students.
The CDC and the American College Health Association both released guidance this week about how college campuses should prepare.
The guidelines from the CDC included how to update emergency operations plans, share information with employees and students, make decisions about canceling classes or events, and preserve safe housing and meals.
The ACHA focused on preparations for student health centers, including how to triage and isolate possibly infected patients. The group's guidance also covered protective equipment for health-care workers, procedures for cleaning and disinfection, and how to prepare for a surge in demand for student health center services.
Several college students already have been exposed to the coronavirus while working in clinical settings and are in quarantine.
A group of students from Lake Washington Institute of Technology in Washington State has been self-quarantined at home after possible exposure. Some are nursing students who, along with four professors from the institute, visited a long-term nursing facility where seven residents have died from COVID-19. Lake Washington closed on Wednesday after a faculty member tested positive for the virus, and will remain shuttered through the weekend.
After a student at Yeshiva University tested positive for the virus, the university on Wednesday shut down its Washington Heights and Midtown campuses in New York City until next week. And Washington State's Everett Community College closed for "deep cleaning" through the weekend after a student was diagnosed with the virus.
Likewise, public health officials directed four students at California’s Los Rios Community College District to self-quarantine after they performed medical duties and came in contact with a patient who later tested positive for the virus.
The U.S. Department of Education also issued new guidance Thursday with a focus on financial aid policies for students who experience disruptions due to the coronavirus.
The department, which last week said it was forming a coronavirus task force and launched a site Friday for college and school officials, explained how to comply with financial aid regulations a well as adding new temporary flexibility, the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators said in a written statement.
Some of the department’s guidance dealt with possible disruptions to the Federal Work-Study program. It also seeks to help colleges more quickly offer online education options to cope with disruptions to courses and academic programs.
“While some institutions would normally have to go through an approval process with the Education Department to use or expand distance learning programs, the Education Department is providing ‘broad approval’ to accommodate students ‘on a temporary basis’ without going through that process,” NASFAA said. “It is also allowing accrediting agencies to waive their review requirements for offering distance education for institutions that may need to do so to accommodate students impacted by the spread of the coronavirus.”
Both the department and the CDC also this week addressed stigma and discrimination related to the coronavirus.
The department cited news reports about stereotyping, harassment and bullying of people who are perceived to be Chinese American or of Asian descent, including some students.
“Ethnic harassment or bullying exacerbates hatred, harms students and is never justified,” Kenneth L. Marcus, the department’s assistant secretary for civil rights, said in a written statement. “These incidents can create a climate of misunderstanding and fear. This hurts all of us.”
March Madness Without Fans?
The National Collegiate Athletic Association this week announced that it had convened a panel of health experts to help while the NCAA considered “all circumstances” in contingency planning for the virus.
Those scenarios include possibly holding its March basketball tournaments without spectators, Donald Remy, the NCAA’s chief operating officer, told Bloomberg. The men’s tournament brings in more than 80 percent of the NCAA’s total revenue of more than $1 billion, mostly through TV deals.
The National College Players Association said in a statement that the NCAA and colleges should act quickly to help protect athletes. “There should be a serious discussion about holding competitions without an audience present,” the group said. “The NCAA and its colleges must act now, there is no time to waste.”
Several colleges and universities have begun limiting the travel of intercollegiate sports teams. Chicago State University and the University of Missouri at Kansas City canceled men’s basketball games that had been scheduled this week at Seattle University. Chicago State also canceled basketball games with Utah Valley University.
Kean University went a step further on Wednesday, canceling out-of-state travel next week for five athletics teams during the university’s spring break. Kean made the move out of an “abundance of caution,” news outlets reported.
"This is consistent with the university's recommendation for the entire campus community to postpone spring break travel to limit possible exposure to COVID-19, avoid travel disruptions and reduce the risk of needing to self-quarantine upon their return," a spokeswoman for the university told
Campus Preparations Ramp Up
Most colleges and universities appeared to have kept busy with their own planning and preparation amid the flurry of action by the CDC and federal government.
The University of Washington, for example, was preparing for scenarios of a possible escalation of the outbreak.
“Everything is on the table for us because we are really cooperating incredibly closely with the public health agencies in Seattle,” said Denzil Suite, UW’s vice president for student life. “We are not either predicting or precluding any course of action at this point.”
Many institutions have had coronavirus task forces in place for weeks or months. And colleges are publicly posting a wide range of information for students and employees.
Dr. Mark S. Schlissel, the University of Michigan’s president and a medical doctor, said Wednesday that the university has instructed students about recommended protocols for washing hands, covering sneezes and coughs, and socially isolating themselves if they think they’ve been exposed to the virus or might have it.
The university is publishing daily updates to a COVID-19 information page on its website.
“There’s a huge amount of uncertainty and a lot of concern,” Schlissel said. “We’re looking at it every single day and asking ourselves, ‘What is the right thing to do?’”
-- Several reporters and editors at Inside Higher Ed contributed to this article.

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