As schools brace for the rapid rise in omicron cases amid delta’s continued onslaught and the onset of flu season, some are closing their doors once again and moving back to online learning ahead of the holiday break.

Prince George’s County in Maryland on Friday became the first major school district to announce that all students will transition to remote learning as cases surge. The shift to online learning will begin Monday, four days before the start of winter break, and continue for two weeks after school resumes on Jan. 3.

“Educators, administrators and support staff must be able to deliver in-person instruction and other activities in conditions that prioritize their own health, as well as the wellbeing of the school community,” Monica Goldson, the CEO of the county’s public schools, said in a letter to the community. “The increased positivity rates have significantly challenged the ability to do so, causing anxiety among many school communities and disruption to the school day.”

In New York City, the Department of Education has closed 859 classrooms, quadruple the number of a month ago, and another nearly 2,500 were partially closed as newly reported Covid-19 infections rose sharply in the city. The city averaged 2,899 confirmed cases each day over the past week, according to the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, up from a daily average of around 1,800 cases over the past 28 days.

In upstate New York, officials announced that the Oswego City School District was transitioning to remote learning from Friday until Dec. 23 because of rising Covid cases, with 60 cases since last Sunday, and staffing shortages.  

In Missouri on Monday, the South Nodaway School Board voted to cancel the rest of the fall semester and resume on Jan. 3 after the winter break because of district-wide shortages caused by Covid cases. And the St. Roch Catholic School in St. Louis said it would move to virtual classes this week and return after the winter break because too many students and teachers are out sick.

Some schools are doing what they can to blunt the latest wave.

In New Orleans, the public school system this week mandated vaccination for students ages 5 and up. The requirement, which goes into effect on Feb. 1, means New Orleans could become the first city in the U.S. to require a school Covid vaccination mandate for children that young. The mayor also expanded the city’s requirement that residents provide proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test to enter indoor public spaces to children ages 5 to 11, with the mandate going into effect Jan. 3.

The closures come as President Joe Biden’s administration unveiled a new strategy using increased Covid testing to keep children in classrooms.

The strategy, announced Friday, includes a “test to stay” approach where instead of mandatory quarantines for unvaccinated students identified as close contacts of a Covid-positive peer, those students could remain in school if they test negative for the virus at least twice during the week after an exposure.

The administration is seeking to head off major disruptions in schools as the omicron variant is expected to barrel into the upcoming holiday season. Schools are particularly vulnerable, with just 18 percent of kids ages 5 to 11 with at least one shot, as well as 61 percent of those ages 12 to 17, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

This week, the U.S. passed the grim milestone of 800,000 coronavirus deaths.

By pauline