This week we look at controversies heating up about back-to-school safety and increasing mask mandates across the country.
Updated August 3, 2020
Climbing cases, masks, and going back to school in a pandemic
We’re currently in the 21st week of pandemic restrictions in the US—and cases keep climbing.
On August 2, the country saw its lowest daily total (49,216) of new cases in weeks. But with more than 150,000 American lives lost and a positive infection count approaching five million, Americans remain as divided as ever about shutdown orders and mask mandates.
As COVID-19 continues its rampage across the nation, crimes related to masks and controversy over school openings are also on the rise.
Georgia’s governor doubled down on his ban that prohibits city or county government from issuing mask requirements. He extended his order in the midst of a lawsuit with Savannah’s mayor who issued an order in spite of the ban.
New Jersey is considering a bill that would make it a crime if you fail to wear a mask where requirements are posted.
In the face of rising infection numbers, parents, educators, and government officials are at odds about how to go back to school safely.
Students and teachers are already testing positive
Schools across Indiana are closing up and suspending sports and other activities after students and staff test positive for COVID-19. Schools resumed in the Hoosier state on July 30.
A junior high schooler in Indiana tested positive for the novel coronavirus on the first day of school. The student and anyone they came in contact with were told not to return to school for at least 14 days.
That same Indiana school shut its doors on the third day of school after at least one staff member also tested positive.
A Mississippi high school student tested positive for COVID-19 during the first week of in-person classes. The student and anyone who had contact with them were asked to quarantine for 14 days.
The largest school district in Georgia has over 250 employees that either tested positive for COVID-19 or are in quarantine due to exposure. One teacher resigned over concerns after the district said teachers can’t work from home. Others reported lax sanitation efforts at district-wide training and planning meetings.
Unions and school boards struggle with school safety during the pandemic
National teachers’ unions are pushing members to strike if schools plan to reopen without proper health and safety measures in place.
“We will fight on all fronts for the safety of our students and their educators. But if authorities don’t protect the safety and health of those we represent and those we serve . . . nothing is off the table.” Randi Weingarten, American Federation of Teachers president, told ABC News
The Massachusetts Teachers Association is pushing to start the school year remotely until the state meets public health benchmarks in regard to COVID-19 cases.
A Kansas Board of Education election is heating up as the board votes on the governor’s plan to postpone the start of the school year. A write-in candidate popped up to challenge an incumbent board member who voted against the delay.
New Jersey announced a mask requirement for all students who return to classes in September. The governor made the decision in response to climbing infection rates in the Garden state.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill faces pushback from faculty over plans to open fully next week.
“It’s not safe for you to come to campus—to live in dormitories and apartments, to sit in classrooms, and to socialize . . . in the way that college students usually do.” From an open letter to students from 30 tenured faculty members at UNC at Chapel Hill
New York’s governor says if coronavirus infection rates remain at the current 1% level, schools will hold in-person classes this fall.
Maryland’s governor issued an emergency order to counter Montgomery County’s directive that private schools start the year online only.
The president reversed course last week, encouraging schools in coronavirus hot spots to delay opening. But there was a caveat—no full federal funding until classes are 100% back in session on campus.
Updated July 20, 2020
Coronavirus, crime, and continued gun violence
This is turning into the summer of our ever-increasing discontent. Protesters nabbed into unmarked vans, widespread gun violence, and climbing coronavirus numbers are competing for headlines on a daily basis.
And that’s not even touching on the great mask debate.
It’s a weird and alarming time—and crime is continuing to evolve right along with coronavirus restrictions and recommendations.
Here’s a roundup of how crime is flourishing (or not) across the country right along with the novel coronavirus.
Shootings in NYC have increased by 66.8% year over year through July 17. The number of shooting victims has jumped 77.5%.
At least 160 people were killed and more than 500 were wounded by gun violence over the Fourth of July weekend.
As of July 20, there have been a total of 310 mass shootings across the nation. That’s a 34% increase compared to the same time period last year, and 74% of 2019’s total of 417 mass shootings.
There have also been more than 22,000 deaths by gun violence and over 19,000 injuries nationwide.
Some research suggests a link between pandemic-led surges in gun sales and the country’s ongoing rash of shooting incidents. Between March and May, there were 64% more guns sold in the US—that’s over 2 million more guns than were sold during the same months in previous years.
The remainder of this article was originally published June 2, 2020
Today’s biggest threats (that aren’t the virus)
Memorial Day weekend saw 49 shootings in Chicago, 10 in New York City, and 3 in Los Angeles.
Shootings continue to be a scourge across the nation as states open up and people finally come out of their homes. Chicago’s Memorial Day weekend was its deadliest in five years.
Property crime continues to be down in most places—especially acts against private residences. But the initial dip in violent crime has normalized across much of the country, particularly in cities already wracked by gun violence and drugs continue to see those crimes proliferate, pandemic or no.
But some new criminal activities are rearing their heads. Here are crimes that seem to be growing as we settle into the third month of social distancing.
Civil disobedience in the face of state and city restrictions
Report COVID-19 hate incidents on the Anti-Semitism Accountability Project’s online portal (in partnership with the China America Public Affairs Institute.
If you or someone you know is the victim of domestic abuse, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline online or at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Calls are free, confidential, and offer support in more than 200 languages.
Scams to watch out for
New scam alert!
Unemployment claims are the latest government program to fall victim to coronavirus scammers. States have lost millions of dollars to the unscrupulous fraudsters preying on the millions of Americans who've been put out of work during the pandemic.
Scammers have hit Florida, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Washington, and Wyoming so far.
Possibly the only thing as pervasive as the novel coronavirus is the unending stream of scams targeting us when we’re at our most vulnerable. Don’t give the scammers any victories as they prey on the fallout of a pandemic.
Here’s what to look out for—and what you can do about it.
IRS stimulus check scams
People are receiving their stimulus money, but scammers have been trying to swipe your funds since the bill was approved by the White House. Don’t respond to any of the following in regard to your stimulus payment.
The bottom line is that the IRS will not contact you for any information related to your stimulus payment. Don’t give anyone your social security number, full name, birthdate, or precious time.
“Economic impact funds” will be automatically deposited into bank accounts for eligible tax filers who already filed taxes this year. If you didn’t get your refund via direct deposit, you’ll be issued a check in the mail.
There has been a spike in emails, texts, and phone calls soliciting donations for phony charity organizations and others claiming to represent the World Health Organization (WHO) or the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Don’t respond to these messages.
Don’t click on any links.
Don’t provide any personal information.
Where to report scams
If you come across a scam, help put these bad actors out of business by reporting it.
Take a look at this week’s roundup of coronavirus crime trends happening across the nation.
We add new states and cities each week as relevant coronavirus-related news surfaces. Check back for updates if your state or city is missing.
New York City, New York
New York City has seen a steady decrease in crime since the onset of the pandemic—but April numbers for murder, auto theft, and burglary increased year over year.
Highlights from recent reports about crime in New York City are included below.
There were 10 shootings in NYC over Memorial Day weekend, resulting in five deaths.
NYC saw seven fewer violent crimes reported between March 16 and April 12 in 2020, compared to the same time period in 2019.
Major crime in NYC dropped 28.5% in April, compared to last year. This year the city saw a total of 5,121 reported crimes—more than 2,000 fewer than the 7,162 reported in April 2019.
April robberies dropped 26% year over year (679 versus 913) , assaults fell by 32% (1,130 versus 1,652, and incidents of grand larceny plummeted 52% (1,566 versus 3,250).
Vehicle thefts, murders, and burglaries all rose year-over-year in April, with commercial burglaries making a huge 169% leap. Murders were up 4.1% (102 murders in April 2020 compared to 98 in 2019).
“Our uniformed officers and civilian employees have demonstrated extraordinary professionalism in adopting innovative policing functions to remain on the front lines, to allay uncertainty and fear, and to relentlessly serve New Yorkers for as long as this unprecedented crisis goes on.”
Dermot Shea, NYPD Police Commissioner, told NBC New York
Not even a global pandemic can stop the rate of violence and murder in the City of Brotherly Love. Despite social distancing and stay-at-home orders, Philadelphia is seeing record numbers of homicides.
Specific statistics from Philadelphia Police Department reports shed more light below.
As of May 17, violent offenses in Philadelphia are down 1.6% year over year. Rape saw the biggest drop, with 16.6% fewer incidents than during the same time period in 2019.
The only violent crimes that have increased are gun-related—robberies with guns have gone up 1.2% and aggravated assaults with guns have jumped 15%.
Shooting incidents are up 60.2%, with 987 incidents for the year as of May 17, compared to 616 during the same time period in 2019.
Overall property crime has increased by nearly 8% as of May 17. Shoplifting shot up the most—almost 30%—followed by commercial burglaries with a 26.8% increase.
As more restrictions are eased, crime is increasing overall on a weekly basis. There were 1,186 Part One crime offenses reported betwen May 11 and May 17, compared to 1,066 the previous week.
“I think broadcasting no arrests for retail theft was the biggest mistake the city ever made.” Sukhvir Thinb, Philadelphia store owner
Amidst year-to-date reports of predominantly lower crime rates, shootings continue to plague Chicago during the pandemic. Find out more below.
Over Memorial Day weekend there were 49 shootings in Chicago, resulting in 10 deaths. That’s the most Memorial Day carnage the city’s seen in five years.
Chicago saw five times more shootings than NYC, and about 16 times more shootings than Los Angeles over the same holiday weekend.
Chicago had 82 fewer property crimes reported between March 16 and April 12, compared to the same timeframe in 2019.
Major arrests went down by 53% in Chicago between March 16 and April 12, and Part II crimes dropped by an impressive 73%.
“The stay-at-home order did little to prevent violence, particularly in parts of the West and South sides. These incidents primarily involved disputes between rival gang factions as well as clashes involving the sale of illegal drugs.” David Brown, CPD superintendent
Los Angeles, California
The City of Angels saw a stark drop in crime as the city hunkered down to battle the COVID-19 pandemic in March. Even though all crime has been trending downward, gun violence still outpaces other violent incidents.
Violent crime was up across the board between April 19 and May 16, compared to the previous 30-day period. Overall, violent crime increased by 12%, with rape showing the biggest jump—over 40%.
News is better year-to-date. Violent crime is down by nearly 11% year over year.
Property crime went down by 1.1% between April 19 and May 16, compared to the previous month. Burglaries dropped by 3.2% and auto theft was the only property crime to see an increase (5.1%).
Overall, major crimes in the City of Angels went down 1.8% between April 19 and May 16.
Shootings are still on the rise, though. The city saw an 8.4% jump in shots fired and a 10.9% increase in shooting victims between April 19 and May 16. Year-to-date, the city reports 8.4% more shots fired and 5.7% more shooting victims than in the same time period for 2019.
“As we go through this pandemic together we must be prepared to [help] neighbors, friends, and family members in need. I’m asking every person who lives and works in Los Angeles County to be on the lookout for people who may need your help.” Jackie Lacey, District Attorney, said about the Behind Closed Doors program to help domestic violence victims
How the coronavirus is impacting crime state to state
Violent crimes in Tempe increased by six incidents per 100,000 people between March 16 and April 12, compared to the same time period last year.
Calls for public intoxication have been on the rise in Flagstaff and burglaries related to public intoxication incidents have climbed almost 13%.
Citizens in Little Rock held a “coronavirus parade” on April 5. Police issued tickets for loitering and reckless driving, despite no statewide stay-at-home order in Arkansas.
Mayor Frank Scott, Jr. admonished the revelers, emphasizing the coronavirus and COVID-19 are “not a game.”
Denver saw 10 more violent crimes reported per 100,000 residents year over year between March 16 and April 12. Denver also reported 10 more car thefts during that same timeframe this year compared to the numbers in 2019.
Delaware County is being proactive when it comes to residents’ mental and emotional health needs. Emergency Services is keeping an eye on domestic violence and suicide calls to see if the pandemic is spurring any spike in reports. So far, the county hasn’t seen an increase, but they want to be prepared if citizens need extra support.
“We haven’t seen a surge in those yet, but it is something we are daily monitoring and reporting out. With our partners and community groups, we’re all preparing to ramp up behavioral health, mental health services,” Tim Boyce, Emergency Services Director, told The Delco Times.
There were 7% more arrests for major crimes in Volusia County between March 16 and April 12, compared to the same time period in 2019.
Miami saw 1.1 fewer homicides per 100,000 people between March 16 and April 12, versus the same period last year.
In Jacksonville, four people have been arrested for coronavirus-related crimes in the past few weeks. Crimes range from spitting and coughing on healthcare and law enforcement workers to jumping a fence into a testing site. The Mayor is considering implementing a curfew if similar incidents persist.
Atlanta had a 6% increase in arrests for major crimes between March 16 and April 12, but there was a drop of 29% for less serious crimes.
Georgia has been a hotbed of controversy as one of the first states to abandon social distancing protocols and in the aftermath of the fatal Ahmaud Arbery shooting.
A father and son were arrested for the crime, claiming concern about a string of break-ins in their neighborhood, but police reports don’t support the burglary spree claim. In fact, Glynn County police recorded just one burglary during that time frame—and it was a vehicle break-in.
No hard feelings
Protesters in California staged a second illegal demonstration to say, "I forgive you" to the law enforcement officers who arrested them at an earlier unsanctioned protest against California's stay-at-home orders.
Far-right activists and politicians in Idaho are defying statewide stay-at-home orders and challenging the constitutionality of such directives. From holding Easter services to calling out political opponents, the efforts aren’t gaining much traction.
Idaho’s governor and attorney general said they’re prepared to defend the stay-at-home order in court if it comes to that.
Since stay-at-home orders were put in place, murders involving guns have decreased 58% in New Orleans and non-fatal shootings dropped 19% compared to the incidence of those crimes between January 1 and March 15.
Other crimes that saw a dip in New Orleans since March 15 include armed robbery (down 29%), carjackings (down 54%), and car break-ins (down 34%).
A riot and a mass escape rocked youth prison facilities (and surrounding communities) in Louisiana in April. The system is already strained due to multiple outbreaks of the novel coronavirus.
Major crime arrests in Boston declined by a whopping 66% between March 16 and April 12, compared to the same time period in 2019.
Police report an uptick in vehicle break-ins across Boston, although home burglaries have declined since a city-wide curfew was put in place to help battle the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Boston city officials and a community organizations that track crime fear shootings are on the rise during the pandemic, although police reported no difference between the number of fatal shootings in March 2019 and March 2020.
Grand Rapids saw a 20% jump in arrests for major crimes between March 16 and April 12, versus the same timeframe last year.
Overall, crime is still increasing in Detroit despite the pandemic, but the rate of increase has slowed significantly since the outbreak started to ravage the city. Detroit police report around 20% fewer major crimes in the city each week, compared to last year’s numbers.
As of the week ending April 19, more than 180 Detroit police department employees had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, over 1,000 have been quarantined, and several have died, including the director of homicide and a volunteer police chaplain.
Crime dipped initially after stay-at-home orders were issued, but Detroit criminals got back to business-as-usual when April rolled around. In the first week of April the city saw 27 non-fatal shootings and 8 homicides.
St. Louis has seen fewer shootings since the state imposed its stay-at-home order. As of April 24, the city reported a 77% reduction in murders year over year compared to the same time period in 2019.
A local group dedicated to reducing crime in Kansas City is changing its tactics from door-to-door interactions to phone outreach in order to comply with the city’s stay-at-home order.
Making a difference
"Wash the Hate" is a PSA campaign spearheaded by Asian celebrities who want to quash the recent spike of hate crimes aimed at Asian Americans in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The campaign aims to unite all communities against our "common enemy."
The sheriff’s office in Lincoln reports a jump in gun sales as the pandemic continues. Between February and March, handgun sales grew by 121% (from 342 purchases to 758). In April sales dipped a bit, but there were still 553 handguns sold in Lancaster County that month.
Shootings in the Garden State were down 18% for the first quarter of the year, compared to the same time period in 2019.
Despite stay-at-home-orders police report no downturn in deaths caused by car crashes
Crime in Albuquerque hasn’t seen huge changes due to the pandemic. While residential burglaries are down, commercial burglaries have risen. Murders remain on track with previous years, and the city hasn’t yet seen a spike in domestic violence calls.
In early April, a man was arrested at a Mandan Walmart for coughing at employees and telling them he had the novel coronavirus.
In the first 30 days of Ohio’s stay-at-home order, Cincinnati saw an upswing in murders and a downturn in domestic violence calls.
A spike in Cincinnati’s homicide rate is reported across the board, though the extent of the increase is up for debate—some news outlets claim a 270% jump and others indicate a 115% rise.
Other crimes that have increased in Cincinnati year over year include a 31% spike each in auto thefts and robberies, and a 20% rise in aggravated assaults. Burglaries decreased by 2.5%, rape went down by 30%, and car break-ins are down nearly 17%.
On April 16, the director of the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation told lawmakers that the crime rate in the state has been relatively unchanged during the pandemic lockdown.
While violent crime calls remain flat, petty theft has seen a bump—although the jump is being attributed to a change in what qualifies as a felony theft rather than any coronavirus restrictions.
On May 1, Portland law enforcement officials reported that shootings in the city are roughly 25% higher year over year.
Right after the state’s stay-at-home order was issued, Portland saw a slight dip in crime, but burglary arrests are starting to climb. There were four burglaries reported during the week of March 15 compared to 17 reported the week of April 19.
Washington County has seen a rise in property crime and officials are linking the trend to the state’s pandemic state of emergency. In response, the Washington County DA plans to charge some misdemeanor thefts as felonies in an attempt to curb so-called “covid thieves.”
Unemployment scams have hit Rhode Island hard. The state Department of Labor and Training and the FBI are investigating hundreds of fraudulent claims among the more than 200,000 legitimate claims from workers hit by the pandemic fallout.
As of April 27, there were 29 Rhode Island police officers who were off-duty because of the novel coronavirus. Eight were positive for COVID-19, and the others were either waiting for test results or to be tested.
A man in Pawtucket robbed a convenience store wearing the recommended face mask and gloves—blending in as a regular, “good citizen” during the pandemic.
Domestic violence incidents have increased since the onset of the pandemic. The Richland County Sheriff’s Department reported 47 calls between March 15 and April 20—a 51% increase compared to the same period last year.
Columbia police had 63 domestic violence calls between March 22 and April 20, versus 60 during the same timeframe in 2019.
Sistercare, a domestic violence counseling service, saw 66% more calls in April than usual.
The Oglala and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes say they are trying to protect the health of their families, but the state says it’s unlawful to block the free flow of traffic on these roadways.
As of May 24, the checkpoints remain and the governor has made little official headway in her effort to get them removed, despite official letters and threats of legal action.
“I would rather, when this is all over, be in court or be criticized for overreacting or doing too much than I would to live the rest of my life knowing somebody was hurt or somebody passed away unnecessarily.” Remi Bald Eagle, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe
Marsy’s Law, landmark legislation designed to strengthen the rights of crime victims in Tennessee, has been put on hold due to the COVID-19 outbreak. State legislators will take the law up again when they reconvene in January 2021.
Nashville saw a 250% jump in homicides during the initial weeks of stay-at-home orders, compared to the same period last year. There were four homicides between March 16 and April 12 last year, compared to 14 this year.
In the midst of the pandemic, Nashville’s government and police get high ratings from the public. The police department’s approval rating is 86% so far this year—an increase over 2019 ratings.
Overall crime in the Salt Lake City area dipped by 84% from March to April, according the Unified Police Department.
Domestic offenses have been on the rise, though. Salt Lake City family violence calls jumped 34% in April, compared to the same time last year.
Commercial burglaries rose 45% in Salt Lake from March to April.
Solve cold cases during quarantine
The Utah Department of Public Safety wants to put pandemic boredom to good use. The department launched a website with information on 400 cold cases and they're asking amateur sleuths to go online and see if they can help solve them.
Police say that crime rates are rising again after an initial drop at the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak. Vermont State Police reported a 29% drop in crime during April and early May—including a 47% dip in assaults. But as summer inches closer, crime is returning to pre-pandemic levels.
Shoplifting and intoxication have been on the rise, and police also report a rise in both assaults and property damage at hotels, specifically.
Rebecca is the lead safety reporter and in-house expert for SafeWise.com. She has been a journalist and blogger for over 25 years, with a focus on home and community safety for the past six. Rebecca spends dozens of hours every month testing and evaluating security products and strategies. Her safety expertise is sought after by publications, broadcast journalists, non-profit organizations, podcasts, and more. You can find her work and contributions in places like TechCrunch, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, HGTV, MSN, and an ever-growing library of radio and TV clips. Learn more