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COVID-19 outbreaks in children complicate school reopening plans | US & Canada News



Multiple outbreaks of the coronavirus in US schools that have reopened with in-person learning have set off concerns about how quickly the virus can spread among young people – calling into question whether it is possible to reopen schools safely anytime soon during the pandemic.

A school in Georgia had more than 100 confirmed COVID-19 cases by the end of its second week of classes, forcing more than 1,600 students and staff to quarantine after being exposed. Schools in Mississippi, Tennessee, Nebraska and other states also reported outbreaks, causing schools to revert to online teaching.

“What we’re seeing is in many of the states where the public schools are back in session with in-person school or a hybrid – that’s been a big driver of infections,” said Dr Shawn Nasseri, an ear, nose and throat surgeon in Los Angeles.

Initially, evidence suggested that COVID-19 had minimal effects on those under the age of 18, and that they did not spread it easily, but new studies are challenging that view.

“It was thought that kids would not be exposed or transmit the virus as efficiently as adults – which is true,” Nasseri told Al Jazeera, “but now it is understood that the viral load in the nose of children even those under 5 years old is significantly higher in the first days of infection, and that teenagers can basically transmit the virus like adults.”

An instructional assistant helping a student at Wilson Primary School in Phoenix, Arizona, US [Cheney Orr/Reuters] 

The US Centers for Disease Control says the number and rate of cases in children “have been steadily increasing” since March, and that previous low rates of infections were due to mitigation measures such as stay at home orders and school closures.

More than 75,000 children in the US tested positive for the coronavirus between July 30 – August 13, a 24 percent increase from the two weeks prior, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association.

By Wednesday, a total of 406,109 cases were reported among children since the pandemic began – more than 7 percent of total cases in the US, raising concerns that the number of infected children will continue to climb as more schools open their doors for the school year. 

Benefits of schooling

“Schools are key to the cognitive development of children,” according to a report from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, echoing other education experts. Children often learn better in school, where they have direct contact with their teachers and can have the social-emotional learning they need by being around their peers, many concur.

But sending children back to school also risks spreading the disease to relatives, teachers and other families.

“Children can be like conveyor belts, taking the disease back and forth,” said Dr Pranatharthi Chandrasekar, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Wayne State University School of Medicine.

“Children get the virus then they shed it, and therefore they can be a risk to other people who they pass the virus on to,” Chandrasekar adds, “it is a problem, opening schools, particularly in areas where the infectivity rate continues to be high.”

But the issue of school reopenings has turned into a controversial political debate in the US, one President Donald Trump sees as key to his re-election bid in November.

Last week, Trump reiterated the false claim that children are essentially immune to the virus, and that schools should reopen for in-person instruction.

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Students return to Greenbrae Elementary School in Sparks, Nevada for the first time since March with mandatory masks and social distancing. Schools in the district are using a combination of classroom instruction and distance learning [AP Photo/Scott Sonner]

“I think, for the most part, they don’t get very sick,” Trump said during a media briefing in the White House, “It’s also a case where there’s a tiny fraction of death, tiny fraction, and they get better very quickly.”

He and his administration have been pushing for schools to reopen so that parents can return to work and the economy can get back on track.

The issue has also ignited intense debates in school districts between some parents who want their children to go back to school so that they can go to work, and teachers who are concerned for their own health. Many teachers have threatened to strike, quit or call in sick if they are forced to return to the classroom.

In some smaller towns and in rural areas, schools are offering in-person instruction this term, albeit with mandates for masks, hygiene, screening and social distancing. But most districts, especially in large and urban cities, will conduct virtual teaching.

New York City is the only major urban area still intending to start some classes at schools, offering a hybrid of online and in-person instruction, a decision that has drawn fierce criticism from teachers’ unions. 

The US’s top infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, said while the nation’s goal should be getting children back to school even as a vaccine is still months away – the decision to reopen schools must be based on the infection rate in that community.

His team has designated zones as either red, yellow, or green to aid determinations in allowing students back into classrooms.

Green zones have a test positivity rate lower than 5 percent, and “should be able to open up safe and clear,” Fauci said during a Facebook Live last week. Yellow zones with a 5-10 percent test positivity rate, could opt for virtual learning or a combination of in-person and virtual, while red zones with a 10 percent or more test positivity rate in the community would be unsafe to reopen. 

‘Bringing it home’

Although most children who contract COVID-19 recover, some have died, and others have developed severe complications after they appeared to have healed.

Similar to adults, children face higher risks of developing severe symptoms if they have underlying medical conditions such as cancer, asthma or lung disease. But some children with none of those conditions can still end up in intensive care units because of COVID-19.

In the US, at least 86 children have died from the coronavirus, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association, including a nine-year-old girl in Florida who had no underlying medical conditions.

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Liberty Elementary School sign welcoming students back on the first day of class in Murray, Utah [AP Photo/Rick Bowmer] 

“There is a quite small, but very concerning group of kids who are previously healthy who get very serious complications from COVID-19,” Dr Michael Wilkes, professor of medicine and global health at UC Davis told Al Jazeera.

“We’ve to date not been able to predict who those are,” Wilkes adds, “most of those kids are surviving, but they require hospitalisation and it looks like they have long-term sequelae.”

Even more worrying, Wilkes says, is the fact that the true numbers of infections among children is likely much higher, amid limited testing and the fact that most who contract the virus have only mild symptoms, such as a runny nose, cough and sore throat – and some, displaying no symptoms at all.

“From a public health perspective what is most concerning is kids passing the infection back and forth in school, on the playground or playing sports, and bringing it home,” Wilkes said.

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Charles Mbire gains $1.2 million as stake in MTN Uganda rises above $51 million



Ugandan businessman and MTN Uganda Chairman Charles Mbire has seen the market value of his stake in MTN Uganda surge above $51 million in just two days, as the share price in the leading teleco company increased by a single digit.

The single-digit bump in the share price caused the market value of Mbire’s stake to gain UGX4.42 billion ($1.24 million) in less than two days.

The million-dollar increase in the value of his stake came after Uganda’s largest telecom company delivered the country’s largest-ever IPO through the listing of 22.4 billion ordinary shares on the Uganda Securities Exchange (USE).

Upon completing the largest IPO in Uganda’s history, MTN Uganda raised a record UGX535 billion ($150.4 million) from the applications that it received for a total of 2.9 billion shares, including incentive shares.

As of press time, Dec. 7, shares in the company were trading at UGX204.95 ($0.0574), down six basis points from their opening price this morning.

Data gathered by Billionaires.Africa revealed that since the telecom company registered its shares on the Ugandan bourse on Mon., Dec. 6, its share price has increased by 2.5 percent from UGX200 ($0.056) to UGX204.95 ($0.0574) as of the time of writing, as retail investors sustained buying interest long after the public offering.

The increase in the company’s share price caused the market value of Mbire’s 3.98-percent stake to rise from UGX178.45 billion ($49.96 million) to UGX182.86 billion ($51.2 million).

In less than two days, his stake gained more than UGX4.42 billion ($1.24 million).

In a statement after the successful listing of MTN Uganda’s shares, Mbire said the IPO shows the confidence that Ugandans and other investors have in the company, its brand and strategic intent.

“We commend all the regulators for their support in our work to become a USE-listed company and to comply in a timely manner with the listing provisions of the national telecommunications operators’ license,” he said.

Steady but sure-MBIRE who is the biggest investor on Ugandas Stock exchange with stocks valued at more than $55 million is laughing all the way to the bank after MTN declared the latest dividend payout.He has steadily grown his business empire which is believed to be more that $350 million (debt free).

Steady but sure-MBIRE who is the biggest investor on Ugandas Stock exchange with stocks valued at more than $55 million is laughing all the way to the bank after MTN declared the latest dividend payout.He has steadily grown his business empire which is believed to be more that $350. ( debt free).

He is into communications-revenue assurance-cement-distribution-oil services-real estate-oil exploration and logistics.

Source: Billionaires Africa

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2-year-old dies at Arua hospital as nurse demands Shs 210,000 bribe




A two-year-old child died at Arua Regional Referral hospital after a nurse, Paul Wamala demanded a bribe amounting to Shs 210,000 before carrying out an operation. 

The incident happened on Saturday, after Aron Nabil, a two-year-old child was referred to the hospital for an operation after he was diagnosed with intestinal obstruction, a medical emergency caused by a blockage that keeps food or liquid from passing through the small intestine or large intestine.

According to the relatives of the child, Wamala allegedly asked them to initially give him Shs 30,000 to buy medicines to commence the procedure. He however returned shortly asking for an additional Shs 180,000 from the relatives.

Emily Adiru, a resident of Osu cell, in Bazar Ward, Central Division, and a relative of the child says although they paid money to Wamala, he abandoned the child without carrying out the operation. According to Adiru, Wamala later refunded Shs 200,000 through mobile money, after she threatened to report him to the police.

“They told us this boy needs an operation which was supposed to be done in the morning on Sunday at around 7 am. They took him inside there, some doctor came from the theatre, he called one of us and said, we should pay Shs 70,000 for buying medicine to start the operation. We paid the Shs 30,000 [but] after paying the Shs 30,000, after some minutes, the same man came and opened the door and called us again, and told us we should pay another Shs 100,000. We also paid the Shs 100,000 and we thought it is finished. We were outside there waiting for our patient to come out [but] then this man came back again and said we should pay another Shs 80,000,” said Adiru.

Although the operation was later carried out after a 7-hour delay, the child didn’t make it, and relatives attribute the death to negligence. Miria Ahmed, a concerned resident wonders why such incidents have persisted at the facility which is supposed to service the citizens.

“Is the problem the hospital, is it the management or it is the human resource that is the problem in the hospital? A small child like this you demand Shs 210,000 for the operation? Well, if the money was taken and the operation is done, I would say anything bad but this money was taken and the small boy was abandoned in the theatre,” she said. 

When contacted Wamala refused to comment on the allegations. Dr Gilbert Aniku, the acting hospital director says that the hospital will issue an official statement later since consultations about the matter are ongoing.

Arua City resident district commissioner, Alice Akello has condemned the actions of the nurse saying she has ordered his arrest so as to set an example to the rest. The case has been reported to Arua regional referral hospital police post under SD reference No:05/30/05/2022.

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Mexican president’s Mayan Train dealt new legal setback | Tourism News




Activists say the planned tourist train will harm the wildlife and natural features of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has been dealt the latest setback to an ambitious plan to create a tourist train to connect the country’s southern Yucatan Peninsula.

On Monday, a judge indefinitely suspended construction on a portion of the project, known as the Mayan Train, saying the plans currently do not comply “with the proceedings of the environmental impact evaluation”.

The ruling follows a legal challenge by activists who said they were concerned the 60km (37 mile) portion of the train that would connect the resorts of Playa del Carmen and Tulum would adversely affect the area’s wildlife, as well as its caves and water-filled sinkholes known as cenotes.

The original plan for the disputed section was for an overpass over a highway, but the route was modified early this year to go through jungle at ground level.

The federal judge cited the “imminent danger” of causing “irreversible damage” to ecosystems, according to one of the plaintiffs, the non-governmental group Defending the Right to a Healthy Environment. In a statement, the group said that authorities had failed to carry out the necessary environmental impact studies before starting construction of the section.

Lopez Obrador had announced the ambitious project in 2018, with construction beginning in 2020. The roughly 1,500km (930 mile) cargo and passenger rail loop was presented as a cornerstone of a wider plan to develop the poorer states and remote towns throughout the about 181,000sq km (70,000sq mile) Yucatan Peninsula.

The railway is set to connect Caribbean beach resorts with Mayan archaeological ruins, with authorities aiming to complete the project by the end of 2023. The plan is estimated to cost about $16bn.

The project has split communities across the region, with some welcoming the economic development and connectivity it would bring. Others, including some local Indigenous communities, have challenged the project, saying it could not only disrupt the migratory routes of endangered species, including jaguars, tapirs and ocelots, but could also potentially damage centuries-old Mayan archaeological sites.

The National Fund for the Promotion of Tourism, the government agency overseeing the project, has said that it expects to “overcome” the latest challenge and that work should continue after an environmental impact statement is finalised. It said the Environment Ministry was currently reviewing its environmental application for the project.

For his part, Lopez Obrador has insisted the railway will not have a significant environmental effect and has accused activists of being infiltrated by “impostors”.

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