A return to in-person learning has led to thousands of students having to quarantine across the US, with Covid-19 cases among children surging to levels not seen since winter. With the increased threat, the US surgeon general is urging parents and officials to take measures that reduce the risk of a child’s environment.
“If they are around people who are vaccinated, everyone in the household gets vaccinated, that significantly reduces the risk to our children,” Dr. Vivek Murthy said in a conversation hosted by the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
In the classroom, there are layers of protection that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has laid out to keep children safe – including wearing properly fitting masks, properly ventilating buildings and regular testing, Murthy said.
“Even though our kids do better, that doesn’t mean that Covid is benign, it doesn’t mean that it’s harmless in our children,” Murthy said. “In fact, we’ve lost hundreds of children to Covid-19.”
The misperception that young people don’t have to worry about Covid-19 may also be hindering their motivation to get vaccinated, Murthy said.
As of Saturday, teens ages 16 and 17 had the highest rate of infection among all age groups, according to a CNN analysis of data from the CDC. Cases overall have surged across the US, with the daily average of newly reported infections surpassing 155,000.
Vaccination is key to protecting against Covid-19 and the serious illness that could come with it. But for many children, vaccination still isn’t an option.
Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine has been fully approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, but only for those 16 and older, and emergency use authorizations only extend to children as young as 12.
Children ages 5 to 11 are the next group in line to become eligible to receive the Covid-19 vaccine, and an updated emergency use authorization from the FDA would make at least 28 million additional children, but the process of authorizing a vaccine may not come until the end of the year, Murthy told CNN’s Briana Keilar earlier this week.
In the meantime, Murthy stressed that “there are steps we can take to keep our kids safer. It’s all the more important with Delta.”
Students sent back into quarantine
The stress over safety precautions in schools is growing, as many students have already faced exposure to Covid-19 in the early days of their new school year.
At least 14,746 students and 2,984 employees have tested positive for Covid-19 throughout the 15 largest school districts in Florida since the start of school, according to a CNN analysis.
Several districts in the state have been at odds with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis over mask mandates in the classroom after the governor banned such measures and some districts chose to implement them anyway. A judge on Friday ruled against DeSantis, saying he did not have the authority to prevent local measures.
In Georgia, six schools in Henry County are temporarily conducting remote learning through August 27 due to “a consistent increase in the number of the individuals required to quarantine.”
With the start of school fast approaching for New York City, officials there announced a change to last year’s quarantine policy based on vaccinations.
City Department of Education Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter and Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday that only unvaccinated students will be subject to quarantine if exposed to positive cases
“This is crucial to remember – anyone vaccinated who is not symptomatic, adult or child, even if there’s been contact, they’re going to stay in school,” de Blasio said Thursday. “I don’t want people thinking of last year’s model and assuming everything’s the same now. It’s not the same. Why? Because of vaccination.”
Hospitals stretched thin as ICU beds run out
The rise in cases has overwhelmed many health care workers trying to keep up with the more than 100,000 Americans hospitalized with Covid-19.
In Georgia, many hospitals have requested ambulance transports be sent to other facilities because they’re stretched thin. The Georgia Department of Public Health on Thursday asked residents to help reduce the strain on EMS and emergency departments by getting vaccinated, wearing a mask and getting tested for Covid-19 somewhere other than the state’s hospitals.
And in Illinois, ICU beds are running out, particularly in southern Illinois and parts of central Illinois, Illinois Department of Public Health Dr. Ngozi Ezike said.
Nearly all of the people hospitalized with Covid-19 are unvaccinated, Gov. J. B. Pritzker said Thursday, and those hospitalizations have “multiplied” the state’s ICU usage “by a factor of seven this summer.”
Kentucky has also seen a steep increase in hospitalizations. On July 14, 239 people were hospitalized with Covid-19 – on Wednesday that number had grown to 2,074, marking 42 straight days of increases, Gov. Andy Beshear said Thursday.
Some states are calling for reinforcements to support staffing at overwhelmed hospitals.
The Texas Department of State Health Services will deploy 2,500 additional medical staff to support health care facilities in the state, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced. Medical equipment such as ventilators, oxygen concentrators, heart monitors, IV pumps, feeding pumps, and hospital beds will also be provided.
In Nebraska, the shortage of nurses and spike in hospitalizations has prompted Gov. Pete Ricketts to declare a hospital staffing emergency. Ricketts announced two new measures to help address the personal strain: making it easier for health care professionals to defer continuing education or licensing requirements and limiting elective surgeries.
By limiting elective surgeries across the state, Ricketts hopes “to help free up hospital capacity, to take on some of the other patients that are coming into the hospital, both non-Covid and Covid patients,” he added.
Health departments get death threats, West Virginia governor says
West Virginia Governor Jim Justice said health departments are getting death threats over local mask mandates.
During a Friday briefing, Justice said people blame the health departments for mask mandates in schools, but clarified that those decisions have been left up to the local boards of education and superintendents.
“You know, I mean, do we really need to get to this? I mean, this is an absolute shame and surely to God above, we’ll stop threatening the very men and women that work so hard to save our lives,” Justice said.
Justice reiterated that he is not an advocate of mandates or masks, but repeatedly encouraged everyone to get vaccinated.
West Virginia is reporting 1,328 new cases of Covid-19 with 547 Covid-19 patients hospitalized and 178 people in the ICU, Justice said. The state is also reporting 18 new deaths in the past two days.
CNN’s Virginia Langmaid, Jacqueline Howard, Mallory Simon, Elizabeth Stuart, Maria Cartaya, Elizabeth Joseph, Devon Sayers, Rebekah Riess, Carma Hassan, Melissa Alonso and Keith Allen contributed to this report.