CHICAGO • Teachers at dozens of school districts protested from their cars this week over plans by some US governors to resume in-class instruction during the coronavirus pandemic, as Arizona, Florida, California and Texas saw declines in new cases.
The teachers, who painted messages on their cars and formed caravans with other school employees, want instruction conducted online until testing shows that classrooms are safe and districts hire more nurses and counsellors.
The Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association, the union representing public school teachers statewide, posted pictures on Twitter of protesters making cardboard gravestones with messages such as "Here lies a third grade student from Green Bay who caught Covid at school" and "RIP Grandma caught Covid helping grandkids with homework".
Teachers and school staff in Chicago, Milwaukee and Philadelphia honked their horns in car protests. Demonstrators rallied outside the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce building, and in Connecticut about 400 formed a car march that went by Governor Ned Lamont's home.
"I do not want to put my students or myself in harm's way. I do not want to be an experiment," Chicago elementary school teacher Andrea Parker told reporters on Monday.
Nearly 159,000 people have died nationwide from Covid-19 since the coronavirus was first identified in the United States in January. Cases nationally fell for a second week in a row but rose week over week in 20 states, including Missouri, Montana and Oklahoma.
Arizona, California, Florida and Texas, US states with some of the largest populations, saw fewer cases and hospitalisations.
California Governor Gavin Newsom said that intensive care unit admissions were also down in his state, but cautioned that it was too early to celebrate.
"This virus is not going away," he said at a daily briefing. "It is not going to take Labour Day weekend off or Halloween off or the holidays off. Until we have a vaccine, we are going to be living with this virus."
The governor said the decline was not enough to merit a change in his order that California schools begin the August term with on-line learning.
School reopenings are at the centre of negotiations between Democrats in Congress and the administration of President Donald Trump over a coronavirus economic relief Bill. Congress last week missed a deadline to extend benefits to tens of millions of jobless Americans.
With Democratic candidate Joe Biden leading in polls ahead of the November presidential election, Mr Trump, a Republican, has made school reopenings part of his re-election campaign.
"Cases up because of big testing! Much of our country is doing very well. Open the schools!" Mr Trump tweeted on Monday.
While reported case numbers may be linked to more testing, the rise in hospitalisations and deaths is not.
States with high numbers should consider re-imposing lockdown restrictions, the government's top infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, said in an interview with the Journal of the American Medical Association.
But Dr Fauci said at a news conference with Mr Lamont, the governor of Connecticut, that he favoured getting students back in class, citing the negative psychological impact of keeping them home as well as the role schools play in feeding children.
"The default position should be to try as best as you possibly can to open up the schools for in-person learning," Dr Fauci said.