A reminder as schools reopen — federal law now gives some parents paid time off to help their kids with remote learning


Last month, a recently-reopened school district near Atlanta, Ga. told more than 1,000 students and staffers they had to quarantine after a coronavirus outbreak.

Earlier this month, approximately 450 students and employees in a central Florida school system needed to isolate after positive COVID-19 cases. Almost 2,000 miles away, around 100 teenagers and staff in a Denver-area school had to do the same because of cases in their school.

Rocky school reopenings are already upending educators’ plans this fall — and they’re likely doing the same thing to the work schedules of many parents who, if they aren’t already working from home, may suddenly need to be there with their quarantined student.

The good news is there’s a range of employee leave laws that could conceivably kick in to protect parents in this situation, separate and apart from an employer’s own paid time off policies. The tricky part, however, is that there’s a complicated mix of rules. And the worrying note, some say, is that the laws don’t do enough to help parents who are trying to make it all work right now.

New federal laws temporarily expanded paid family leave

During the early days of the pandemic, federal lawmakers passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). Though America is the only highly industrialized country without a federal paid family leave law, the FFCRA temporarily enabled paid leave for families pulled from work to quarantine, care for others with COVID-19, or care for children who are at home because of closed day cares and schools.

The FFCRA has two important parts: one portion addressing emergency paid sick leave and another portion for expanded family and medical leave.

When it comes to school and child care, the U.S. Department of Labor says covered workers can access up to two weeks (80 hours) of emergency paid sick leave at two-thirds pay. The cap on pay in this time period is $200 daily and $2,000 total, according to the Center for WorkLife Law within the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.

A covered worker (they have to have been on the payroll for at least 30 days) can also tap the law’s expanded family and medical leave for an additional 10 weeks of pay at two-thirds their compensation. In that 10-week period, an employer pays a maximum of $200 a day and up to $10,000 total, the Center for WorkLife Law. Employers ultimately receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit that covers them for paying the leave.

The law applies to employers with fewer than 500 workers. A small business with fewer than 50 workers can apply for an exemption if it can show the absence of employees would jeopardize its operations and bottom line.

The paid leave provisions are in effect from April 1, 2020, to Dec. 31, 2020.

If a school closes for half a day, parents can get paid time off

The Labor Department weighed in late last month on how the FFCRA fit in with the fall school year.


If a student attends school some days but has distance learning on other days, parents can receive paid leave on the days their child is home.

If a student physically attends school some days, but has distance learning on other days, the department said a parent can get paid leave on the days their child is home. That’s because the school is essentially “closed” to the student for the day in eyes of the law. (If a child is home under a quarantine order, that can justify the parent’s paid leave.)

On the other hand, if a parent chooses all remote learning instead of in-person instruction, they cannot access paid leave under the federal law. The school is not “closed” in that context, the Labor Department said.

If school administrators start the year remotely and say they’ll make a reopening decision at a later date, the school is still closed and the paid leave is still available.

Likewise, a school might be open, albeit for a half day. The FFCRA allows workers to apply for paid leave in bite-sized pieces, like from 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.

“You may take intermittent leave in any increment, provided that you and your employer agree,” a Labor Department questionnaire said. “The Department encourages employers and employees to collaborate to achieve flexibility and meet mutual needs.”

State and local laws can support working parents too

Now consider the fact that FFCRA isn’t the only paid leave law out there.

As the pandemic continued, various states and cities have expanded their paid leave laws to incorporate things like school closures. Is it possible to stack the time off, so that a parent could pull paid leave from one law and then turn around and pull from another?

“It depends what law you talking about and what the context is,” said Liz Morris, deputy director of the Center for WorkLife Law. “The bottom line is, it’s extremely complicated the way these laws all interact.”

The center launched a helpline in April to assist workers navigating all the rules out there. “Anybody who has COVID-19 caregiving issue in workplace can call,” Morris said.

The center’s helpline is (415) 851-3308 and its email is: covid19helpline@worklifelaw.org.

Morris’ team has talked to people trying to figure out the leave laws, pregnant women and new mothers who are concerned about being at work and others with health conditions who are worried about returning to work.

There’s a range of federal and state laws, but Morris said they may not be good enough for everyone — especially if they’ve already used up their paid leave under the FFCRA.


‘We’re trying to rely on this patchwork… What we really need is a single comprehensive law that protects everyone.’


— Liz Morris, deputy director of the Center for WorkLife Law at University of California, Hastings College of the Law

“We’re trying to rely on this patchwork of laws to bring together a set of legal rights for people so that they just have a job to return to when this is all over and need income … What we really need is a single comprehensive law that protects everyone.”

Paid time off is important for parents juggling work and school right now, but it’s not everything, said Rich Fuerstenberg, senior partner in the Life, Absence and Disability practice at Mercer, a human resources consulting firm.

For one thing, leave under the FFCRA “is a one-shot deal. Once it’s gone, it’s gone,” he noted.

Going into the fall, Fuerstenberg said the companies he’s been working with have been thinking hard about their work schedule flexibility policies, how they can assist with child care costs and also looking at how much paid time off they are giving staff.

Almost two-thirds (62%) of companies said they were allowing parents to change their work schedules so employees could manage their child’s new school routine this fall, according to a July-August Mercer survey of more than 800 employers.



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NYC restaurants can reopen indoor dining on Sept. 30, Gov. Cuomo says


Just one day after referring to indoor dining in New York City as a “reckless” proposition, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced on Wednesday that such service will return to the city at the end of the month.

As of Sept. 30, restaurants will be allowed to serve guests indoors at 25% of their usual capacity, the governor said. The reopening plan includes a series of new safety measures and restrictions. Diners will be required to wear face coverings when not seated; at least one member of each party must provide information for contact tracing; temperature checks will be given at the door; no bar seating will be permitted; and restaurants will close at midnight. Businesses will also be required to operate with enhanced air filtration systems, a requirement similar to one of the stipulations used for gym reopenings.

The positivity rate in New York state — or the percentage of tests coming back positive for the virus — has remained below 1% for 33 days as of Tuesday. In New York City, that rate was 0.7%, down from a peak of more than 60% at the height of the crisis in March and April, when the city was the nation’s viral epicenter. 

Don’t miss: I went to the Met, and here’s what I saw

The governor previously cited concerns about the city’s failure to come up with a plan to enforce safety compliance for indoor dining, suggesting at one point that several thousand police officers be deployed to ensure good behavior in restaurants. It appears a mixture of improving compliance on outdoor dining rules and a promise of additional enforcement from the city cleared the way for Wednesday’s decision. 

“Because compliance is better, we can now take the next step,” Cuomo said.

The city will provide 400 enforcement personnel to monitor indoor dining in addition to compliance officers with the State Liquor Authority, Cuomo said. It wasn’t immediately clear which city agencies would be staffing that beefed-up enforcement. 

The governor also called for New Yorkers themselves to aid in enforcement at the 10,000 restaurants that are expected to require inspection. Restaurants will be required to publicly post capacity limits and phone numbers for patrons to report violations: 833-208-4160, or text ‘VIOLATION’ to 855-904-5036.

“I trust that if they have the right information, they will do the right thing,” he said, warning that if the infection rate in New York City spikes, the state can always close indoor dining again. 

If the infection rate has not increased by Nov. 1, indoor dining may be allowed to expand to 50% capacity, Cuomo said.

Also see: Welcome to New York! Don’t you dare go outside!

Pressure to reopen also came from the restaurant industry itself; in August, a group of more than 300 restaurants filed a class-action lawsuit against the state for the ongoing closure mandates, seeking more than $2 billion in damages.

James Mermigis, the attorney representing the restaurants in the suit, did not immediately respond to request for comment.

“The New York City restaurant industry has been financially devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic, and a safe return to indoor dining is critical to help save these vital small businesses and jobs,” NYC Hospitality Alliance executive director Andrew Rigie said in a statement emailed to MarketWatch. “We’re thankful to Gov. Cuomo for announcing a return to indoor dining with a blueprint for future expansion. Restaurants are essential to New York’s economic and social fabric, and indoor dining is a key component to the industry’s recovery.”

Read next: There are seven coronavirus vaccine candidates being tested in the U.S. — here’s where they stand



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As schools reopen, scientists say some children could spread COVID-19 even if they already have the antibodies


As schools and colleges reopen across the country, scientists say social distancing remains a critical public-health response to COVID-19. New research released Thursday sheds more light on children who test positive for COVID-19, and the contagiousness of coronavirus. Children often remain asymptomatic or display very few symptoms, and the research also offers insights into the course of the disease at an important time for families and communities.

A study published in the latest edition of the Journal of Pediatrics finds that the virus and antibodies can coexist in young patients. “With most viruses, when you start to detect antibodies, you won’t detect the virus anymore. But with COVID-19, we’re seeing both,” says Burak Bahar, lead author of the study and director of Laboratory Informatics at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C. “This means children still have the potential to transmit the virus even if antibodies are detected.”


‘Children still have the potential to transmit the virus even if antibodies are detected.’


— Burak Bahar, director of Laboratory Informatics at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C.

The researchers reviewed an analysis of 6,369 children tested for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and 215 patients who underwent antibody testing at Children’s National between March 2020 and June 2020. Out of these 215 young patients, 33 tested positive for both the virus and antibodies during the course of the disease. Nine of those 33 also showed presence of antibodies in their blood while also later testing positive for the virus.

What’s more, researchers found that patients aged 6 years through 15 years old took a longer time (a median time of 32 days) to clear the virus, meaning that it had left their systems, versus patients aged 16 years through 22 years old (a median of 18 days). Females in the 6 to 15 age group also took longer to clear the virus than males: A median of 44 days for females versus 25.5 days for males. “We can’t let our guard down just because a child has antibodies or is no longer showing symptoms,” Bahar said.

The study also found that 25 days was the median time from viral positivity to negativity — the moment when the virus can no longer be detected; it took 18 days to go from viral positivity to seropositivity — or the presence of antibodies in the blood — and it took 36 days to reach adequate levels of neutralizing antibodies. These “neutralizing antibodies” are important in potentially protecting a person from reinfection of the same virus, the researchers wrote.

Four important caveats: Firstly, the study looked at a relatively small number of children. Secondly, the next phase of research will be to test whether coronavirus that is present along with the antibodies for the disease can be transmitted to other people. Thirdly, scientists need to explore whether antibodies correlate with immunity and, fourthly, they need to establish how long antibodies and potential protection from reinfection actually lasts. As such, Bahar reiterates the need for social distancing.

Related:Dr. Fauci: It’s ‘conceivable’ we’ll know by November if a safe, effective vaccine is coming

A separate study published this week in JAMA Pediatrics suggests that children can spread SARS-CoV-2, even if they never develop symptoms or even long after symptoms have cleared. It found a significant variation in how long children continued to “shed” the virus through their respiratory tract and, therefore, could potentially remain infectious. The researchers also found that the duration of COVID-19 symptoms also varied widely, from three days to nearly three weeks.

A recent systematic review estimated that 16% of children with a SARS-CoV-2 infection are asymptomatic, but evidence suggests that as many as 45% of pediatric infections are asymptomatic, according to the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The signs and symptoms of COVID-19 in children are similar to other infections and noninfectious processes, including influenza, according to the CDC.


A separate study in JAMA Pediatrics said children may spread SARS-CoV-2, even if they never develop symptoms or even long after symptoms have cleared.

Under pressure from the teachers union to delay the start of the school year, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday that in-person classes will be pushed back until Sept. 21, 11 days later than planned. Remote learning, also originally slated to start on Sept. 10, will now commence on Sept. 16. Other countries have not fared so well with school reopenings. Israel, which also reopened schools this week, experienced outbreaks when it reopened schools on May 17.

Bahar also advised teachers and students to wear masks. To reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, it may be preferable to use high-quality cloth or surgical masks that are of a plain design instead of face shields and masks equipped with exhale valves, according to an experiment published Wednesday by Physics of Fluids, a monthly peer-reviewed scientific journal covering fluid dynamics that was first established by the American Institute of Physics in 1958.

As of Sunday, the U.S. still has the world’s highest number of COVID-19 cases (6,262,989), followed by Brazil (4,123,000), India (4,113,811) and Russia (1,022,228), according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University. California became the first state in the country to surpass 700,000 confirmed cases. COVID has killed 188,711 people in the U.S. Worldwide, cases are near 27 million.

AstraZeneca
AZN,
-1.07%

, in combination with Oxford University; BioNTech SE
BNTX,
-1.19%

and partner Pfizer
PFE,
-0.11%

; GlaxoSmithKline
GSK,
-1.38%

; Johnson & Johnson
JNJ,
-0.64%

; Merck & Co.
MERK,
-0.95%

; Moderna
MRNA,
-3.45%

; and Sanofi
SAN,
+5.09%

are among those currently working toward COVID-19 vaccines.

The Dow Jones Industrial Index
DJIA,
-0.56%
,
the S&P 500
SPX,
-0.81%

and the Nasdaq Composite
COMP,
-1.26%

ended lower Friday. Doubts about traction for further fiscal stimulus from Washington may be one factor discouraging investors who have been betting on Republicans and Democrats striking a deal to offer additional relief to consumers and businesses.



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It seemed safe to reopen Israel’s schools, but then came COVID-19 outbreaks — what can we all learn from those mistakes?


After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu implemented a strict lockdown in Israel in February, by early May, roughly a dozen daily new cases of coronavirus down from more than 750 per day were being reported among the country’s population of roughly 9 million people.

But three months ago, the cost of reopening schools with so few cases of coronavirus did not seem to come close to the benefits that were believed to be gained from holding in-person classes — or so the Israeli government thought.

However, a heat wave that made it difficult for students to wear masks, full classrooms that made social distancing near-impossible and, perhaps, the illusion that the virus had been vanquished all contributed to a false sense of security.

Within days of reopening schools on May 17, one of the largest coronavirus outbreaks in the country occurred, prompting many schools to revert to online instruction. The hardest-hit school was Gymnasia Rehavia, a middle school and high school in the county’s capital, Jerusalem, where some 153 students and 25 staff members tested positive for coronavirus.

As Rebecca Nussbaum, a teacher, told The World radio program of the first attempt to reopen schools in Israel: “We did not feel like we had any adequate time to prepare for that, in order to make sure the school was appropriately equipped for that many students coming back in one go.”

“To everybody’s surprise in the school, the Thursday night before we were going back on the Sunday, we were in a staff meeting about how capsules would work; it was 9 o’clock at night and a news report came out saying that schools were opening as normal,” she added.

Now the country has become a cautionary tale for what NOT to do when reopening schools.

To date, Israel has reported 118,538 cases of coronavirus and 957. That translates to 10.8 deaths per 100,000 of the population or a 0.8% fatality rate. To put that in comparison, the U.S. has reported 56.4 deaths per 100,000 people and a fatality rate of 3%.

The Israeli government now has a staggered system of return under its “Safe Learning” program. The country’s education ministry said approximately 2.4 million children and 205,000 education workers have resumed their school year. There will be smaller capsules for older students, and a mixture of online and in-person classes.

MarketWatch spoke with Eli Waxman, a professor at the Weizmann Institute of Science and former chairman of the team advising Israel’s National Security Council on the pandemic, to understand what went wrong and what the U.S. and other countries can learn.

Waxman left his position at the NSC in May after the recommendations his team made were ignored by the Israeli government, the Times of Israel reported.

Eli Waxman, pictured, is a professor at the Weizmann Institute of Science and former chairman of the team advising Israel’s National Security Council on the pandemic.


Weizmann Institute of Science

MarketWatch: What was the thought process back in May when schools reopened? What was lacking from Israel’s initial school reopening plan?

Eli Waxman: The contact tracing infrastructure was not built. Due to hurdles and objections within the health ministry, and due to the lack of the decision by the political level. And so we reopened physically without having this infrastructure, so there was no way to control new outbreaks.


‘The contact tracing infrastructure was not built. Due to hurdles and objections within the health ministry, and due to the lack of the decision by the political level.’

We proposed the gradual relief of social distancing measures starting with activities that are less dangerous such as construction and only later opening commerce and schools very gradually.

Due to the political pressures, this program was not implemented, far from it, and all the restrictions were relieved, almost at the same time, and without proper regulations prepared for conduct in public places.

So the combination of these factors led to the new uncontrolled outbreak that we’ve seen in June and July.

MW: So was there really no plan for how to deal with outbreaks of the virus that occur in classrooms and spread across schools and, ultimately, people’s homes?

EW: There was no plan. The health ministry was totally unprepared and, in parallel, they also removed restrictions.

The original plan was to first resume activity at the lower grades up to third-grade and with reduced numbers of students per class, with masks and alcogels [disinfectants] and, after monitoring the situation for a couple of weeks, considering the resumption of activity for higher grades.

We started with the lower grades and, in three days, all the grades were back to school and all the restrictions were removed. It was no surprise that we had these outbreaks. There were no capabilities to trace contacts and to isolate them and there was no way to stop the spread.


‘It was no surprise that we had these outbreaks. There were no capabilities to trace contacts and to isolate them and there was no way to stop the spread.’

MW: What has changed since May?

EW: There are several steps that have been taken. One major development was the realization by the government and by the health ministry that an efficient and strong contact-tracing capability should be used. It was also accepted that the health ministry is not capable of doing this, and the responsibility for the construction [of this system] was moved to the army.

This is something that we were recommending for months and it didn’t happen. This has happened now, and the army is building this capability. It is not set yet it is not ready but it will be ready I hope within a couple of weeks.

There still debates about how school activity would resume.

An Israeli pupil heads to his classroom upon return to school after the COVID-19 lockdown, at Hashalom elementary in Mevaseret Zion, in the suburbs of Jerusalem, last May. (Photo: AFP via Getty Images.)

Some argue that the plan should be gradual, as I just described. Starting with lower grades and reducing the number of students per class, and walking in capsules, and requiring safety measures like masks and alcogels.

I hope this will be implemented but it’s not at all clear to me because there are pressures to resume all activity of all grades at the same time. I’m worried that if this happens due to the pressures then we will face again serious danger of uncontrollable outbreaks.


‘If we repeat the same thing that we did last time we are going to face serious problems.’

MW: A lot of countries are looking at Israel now as an example of what NOT to do. But is there anything your country has done well that you feel is not getting enough recognition?

EW: The response to the first outbreak. The sooner you act, the faster you suppress the outbreak and the faster you can resume activity. The decision to close down flights and also to close school activity, and then to apply more restrictions on general activity — I think this was done in the right way early on.

It allowed us to get very low numbers in April ‘and May. However, the steps that should have been taken during the time between early March and mid-May — the construction of the contact-tracing capability and setting up rules for a gradual resumption of activity — did not happen.

These steps are crucial for safe resumption of activity in the presence of the virus.

MW: If schools were to reopen again in Israel for in-person learning, are you confident that the country would have things under control?

EW: I’m not confident because of the pressures for reopening not gradually and without precaution measures. So it really depends on how it will be done this time. If we repeat the same thing that we did last time we are going to face serious problems. I hope that we will not do it again.

(The interview was edited for style and space.)

Before schools reopened in Israel, coronavirus appeared to be under control. Once schools reopened that was no longer the case. (Photo: AFP via Getty Images.)



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New Zealand’s stock exchange not to reopen on Thursday after cyber attacks By Reuters


© Reuters.

(Reuters) – New Zealand’s stock exchange will not reopen on Thursday for trading following offshore cyber attacks over the last two days, bourse operator NZX Ltd said.

The exchange pointed to network connectivity issues from the cyber attacks and said it is hoping to resume on Friday.

“This decision not to re-open has been made while we focus on addressing the situation,” the bourse said in a statement.

The cyber attacks on Tuesday and Wednesday targeted the exchange’s network provider through a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, which is a common way to disrupt a server by overwhelming it with a flood of internet traffic.

The bourse took the call to not reopen the main board, NZX debt market and Fonterra Shareholders Market after trading was halted at 11:10 AM local time (2310 GMT). NZX will also close the derivatives market on Thursday.

“We continue to address the threat and work with cybersecurity experts and we are doing everything we can to resume normal trading tomorrow,” NZX said.

Trading on Tuesday and Wednesday were impacted for different periods of time.

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