MONDAY, Aug 23, 2021 (HealthDay News) – Schools reopen as the Delta variant rises across America, a frightening prospect for educators and parents alike.
But experts representing teachers and doctors say the reopening must be done for the sake of the students, and a combination of vaccination and safety measures will help keep children and staff safe.
The children have suffered during the pandemic and they need in-person schooling this year, said Dr Angela Myers, division director of infectious diseases at Children’s Mercy Kansas City, in an interview with HealthDay Now.
âWhat we do know from the data is that when kids were in school full time, they learned better and their mental health was better,â Myers said. “We know what is the right thing to do and we know how to keep children safe and keep children healthy and keep them where they need to be, which is at school.”
The problem is, the Delta variant is much more contagious than the original COVID-19 strain, Myers noted. An infected person will usually pass Delta to five others, as opposed to two others with previous strains.
âAt the start of the pandemic, children represented a very small proportion of those infected,â Myers said. “It was about 2%, and then we’ve seen it increase over the course of the year. In the last few weeks, about 15% of infections have been in children. It’s a huge difference.”
Children are even less likely to contract the type of serious illness that adults endure, but it’s a numbers game, Myers said. Children and adolescents make up one of the largest unprotected populations in the United States, which means they are likely to be infected in greater numbers.
“When you see more children infected because the virus is more contagious, you will see more children in the hospital, more children with serious illness in intensive care, and you will see an increase in the number of deaths, âMyers mentioned. ” Of course. “
Vaccination is essential to keep school children safe, especially those under the age of 12 for whom a vaccine is not yet approved, said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).
In fact, America’s two largest teachers’ unions are now supporting vaccination mandates for staff as the school year approaches.
Support for immunization mandates
The 3 million member-strong National Education Association has announced its full support for immunization mandates, while AFT encourages representatives of its 1.7 million members to work with employers on policies that require either vaccination, or regular COVID-19 tests.
âWe initially thought the best way to do it was voluntary, and if you look at it, 90% of educators have been vaccinated voluntarily,â Weingarten told HealthDay Now. “But circumstances have changed because of the Delta variant, and we know that vaccines are the most important way to keep people safe.”
The Broward County School Board is considering a vaccination mandate for staff, following the deaths of three educators from COVID-19 within about 24 hours a week before reopening, said Debra Hixon, a local school board member , in a separate interview with HealthDay Now.
“We are currently reviewing the legality of the possibility of forcing vaccines on our staff at this time,” Hixon said. “There is a small question on whether this is possible because the vaccine does not have full FDA approval.”
That may change soon, with full FDA approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for people aged 12 and older expected on Monday.
But the lack of an approved vaccine for children under 12 means COVID-19 vaccines cannot join the list of other vaccines required for school, Myers and Weingarten said.
âI don’t see this happening until it’s approved,â Myers said. âThere are several vaccines needed for school, and they have been shown over decades to save lives. Millions of lives have been saved by forcing children to receive the MMR vaccine, for example against measles, mumps and rubella.
Educators and pediatricians must continue to promote immunizations for children 12 and older, less than half of whom have already been immunized, Myers added.
âWhat I would really like to point out is that there is still time,â Myers said. âGet vaccinated. You can start school before you are fully immunized, and that’s okay. You are going to use your mitigation measures. But please consider getting the vaccine now, because the sooner you get it, the sooner you are protected and your peers in school. “
Schools should also enforce masking and social distancing measures to keep everyone safe, Myers and Weingarten said.
âNo one wants to wear a mask,â Weingarten said. “I have asthma. I know how difficult it is to breathe with a mask on. But if we know that this is what is going to help stop or eradicate or stem the tide of communicability with this contagious disease, then we have to do it to keep people safe. And the more we do it now, the sooner we may be able to get rid of our masks. “
Schools plan quarantines
Weingarten is convinced that most schools have the capacity to create social distancing of at least three feet in classrooms.
âMost classrooms can actually accommodate a physical distance of three feet,â Weingarten said. “We should just be smart about using different spaces to be able to do it. Let’s take a possible problem-solving approach, as opposed to an impossible approach.”
School districts should also create emergency outbreak plans and ensure parents are fully informed of those plans, experts said.
âWe need to make sure parents know the protocols in the event of an outbreak,â Weingarten said. “They want to know. They have to know it. We have to do it clearly and we have to make it transparent.”
For example, Broward County has a protocol in place for children who need to be quarantined, Hixon said.
“We have a learning plan in place for them. There will be cameras in the classroom, so if a student is in quarantine, they can still watch their teacher, although the teacher cannot interact.” , Hixon said. “If an entire class needs to be quarantined, the teacher will revert to this distance education that we had before the school year so that we can continue to learn with our students.”
It’s understandably a little depressing to be where Americans are now, Weingarten admitted.
âI think we had hoped on July 1 that we were going full speed ahead and COVID was in the rearview mirror,â Weingarten said. “But one thing we have learned about COVID is that the uncertainty is there every day.”
But she stressed that all children really need to go back to school, so officials should do whatever it takes to ensure a safe reopening.
âWe need to make sure that we make it safe and healthy for our school community – for our children, for our parents and for our educators,â Weingarten said. “I think if we can do that then we are going to see a real change in this country from the fear and turmoil we have right now to a sense of confidence that we are taking care of our children.”
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on schools and COVID-19.
SOURCES: Angela Myers, MD, MPH, division director of infectious diseases, Children’s Mercy Kansas City; Randi Weingarten, president, American Federation of Teachers; Debra Hixon, Broward County Public School Board Member