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Countries Debating Safest Path to Reopening Schools in September

The latest COVID-19 information and statistics for the Middle East and North Africa

In late May and early June, 153 students and 25 staff contracted the coronavirus at Jerusalem’s Gymnasia Rehavia high school.

That scenario is what Israel and other countries are trying to avoid as governments decide when and how to allow students back into classrooms this fall.

Israeli Education Minister Yoav Galant on Wednesday outlined a plan for starting the next school year on September 1 despite a resurgence of the disease that threatens to spiral out of control and force another nationwide lockdown.

As of Friday, the total number of coronavirus cases in Israel stood at 35,533, with 350 deaths and 18,532 recoveries, according to the Johns Hopkins coronavirus tracker.

A professional committee put together by Galant came up with three different plans for reopening schools, depending on the level of coronavirus at the time.

The plan for the lowest level would see schools open with a combination of in-class and remote learning, and additional health regulations. The second plan would see grades 5-12 study remotely, while grades 1-4 would meet in smaller classes. The plan for the highest level of infections is like the second plan but would also include kindergarteners and preschoolers being divided into smaller groups.

The total cost for setting up and maintaining the program would be about NIS 3 billion ($857 million).

According to UNESCO, as of Friday, there were 143 country-wide school closures affecting 1,184,126,508, or 67.6% of total enrolled learners.

In the United States, the hardest-hit country in terms of total numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths, the Trump Administration is pushing schools to reopen, including calling for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to revise its guidelines because they are currently too “tough” and “expensive.”

However, agency director Dr. Robert Redfield said on Thursday that the guidelines would not be revised.

State governors are deciding the best approach to reopening schools. For example, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced on Wednesday that a decision would be made in August on whether to reopen schools in September.

As to what reopening might look like in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza on Wednesday announced a plan for getting 1.1 million public school students into “blended learning” scenarios, which combine coming into the classroom with studying remotely. The plan also includes health measures such as mask-wearing, hygiene and social distancing.

The total number of coronavirus cases in the US as of Friday stood at 3,118,109 with 133,291 deaths and 969,111 recoveries, according to the Johns Hopkins coronavirus tracker.

Coronavirus cases are spiking in other countries too, with Iran, the hardest-hit state in the Middle East, surpassing 250,000 infections on Friday, and Saudi Arabia, in second place, climbing past 223,000.

Here are the latest COVID-19 numbers for the Middle East and North Africa as of 7 am UTC on Friday.

CountryConfirmed casesDeathsRecoveredActive Cases
Palestinian Territories5,220245254,671
Saudi Arabia223,3272,100161,09660,131
United Arab Emirates53,57732843,5709,679