America’s children are going back to class soon. In some parts of the country they already have. Keeping them safe while COVID-19 continues its march across the country is a top priority.
Getting our children back to school should be our nation’s top priority this fall which means balancing the risks of them getting COVID-19 with their educational and social needs. We need to ensure that our kids are in school, but we need to make sure they do it safely.
During the pandemic, we prioritized the interests and needs of adults over those of children. The virus was devastating for adults and seemed less likely to affect children. But new data show that children are just as able to become ill with COVID-19 and pass it to others. The risk of severe disease in kids is low but possible.
Closing schools for most of the year protected our children from becoming ill. But it did so at a tremendous cost.
Our children need to be in environments conducive for learning, growth, and cognitive development. They require social interaction and social engagement. Their mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing depend on being in school. It’s nourishment for their brains.
If we follow the CDC guidance and have a health safety action plan in place, we can reopen our schools. The anchor of their guidance is that students should continue to wear masks indoors if not yet fully vaccinated. On July 19th the American Academy of Pediatrics updated its guidance to recommend that all students over the age of two and all school staff should wear masks at school, regardless of vaccination status. This was tough to swallow but we now know Delta is a different breed and is affecting the younger population.
Even with clear guidance from the CDC, requirements to follow that guidance vary state by state:
*At least eight states, according to The Wall Street Journal, have banned schools and universities from requiring COVID vaccination and wearing masks: Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Montana, Arizona and Utah.
Four additional states have banned schools from mandating masks: Vermont, South Carolina, Iowa, and Texas.
Other states, like Arkansas, Arizona, and Oklahoma, will continue to encourage students and school staff to wear masks and get vaccinated but won’t require it.
Florida is leaving it up to parents.
The new, more infectious delta variant of the virus is causing a massive surge in new infections across the country. New cases are up 500% as of Aug 6, 2021.
I am currently seeing more breakthrough infections in my patients who have been vaccinated. Fortunately their symptoms are mild.
In response to this new COVID wave, Los Angeles reinstated its mask mandate and Clark County in Las Vegas updated its guidelines to recommend all people wear masks in crowded areas.
So, how can parents and communities prepare children and schools for a new semester, whatever the fall may bring? The best thing is to put a health safety action plan in place now. It’s really easy and begins with assessing your community’s situation:
*Get the vaccine if you are eligible. It is one of the best defenses against the new delta variant comprising 93% of new cases in the United States.
*Check the prevalence of COVID in your community. Is it low or high? What is the vaccination rate?
*Do you have a strategic plan to project the students and staff who are most at risk?
*Are you ensuring that everyone is wearing their mask?
*Are you addressing issues with the ventilation and filtration systems?
*Are desks sufficiently spaced apart?
*If prevalence in the community is high, will you use hybrid schedules?
CDC'S MASK GUIDANCE ANGERS PARENTS HEADING INTO NEW SCHOOL YEAR: 'STOP THE INSANITY'
The CDC provides the following guidance:
*Consistently and correctly use masks
*Practice physical distancing
*Use screening tests to identify cases
*Implement improved ventilation and air filtering
*Practice handwashing and respiratory etiquette
*Have your children stay home when they are sick and get them tested
*If you are school staff, likewise, stay home and get tested if you are sick
*Implement contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine
*Practice routine cleaning and disinfection
We should continue wearing masks even though we are all tired of it. The CDC recommends wearing a mask if you’re not vaccinated—doing so will protect others and yourself. The schools and the teachers--all of us--can’t tell who is vaccinated from who is not.
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The science, data, and facts show us that these strategies work. We have the ability to create tailored health safety protocols and put them in place before the fall semester starts.
Implementing the CDC guidance through concrete health safety plans will make sure we achieve our country’s top priority: getting our students back at their desks in our classrooms.
We’ll be ready to go in the fall if we continue to educate, vaccinate, and mask up.