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After more than a year of virtual learning, America’s schools are open but that doesn’t mean kids are all back at their desks.
The nationwide shortage of bus drivers is one of the obstacles to the commitment to get students into brick-and-mortar classrooms. Massachusetts has called on the National Guard to get kids to and from school.
Another stumbling block is Covid quarantines. An untold number of US kids are facing a week or two back home, in many cases with no live instruction, due to exposure or close contact with infected classmates as the virus spreads “exponentially” among kids.
What is “exponential” spread? More kids are getting Covid-19. A lot more. The 243,373 child cases represent more than a quarter – 28.9% – of all cases contracted in the US for the week ending September 9, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Kids and Covid-19
They remain a small portion of hospitalizations – just 2.2%, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, although that’s gone up since the summer, when child hospitalizations were at less than 1% of the total.
With schools back in session, each one of those infected kids is coming into contact with other kids, and so the issue of quarantines is turning into a new flashpoint.
The head-in-sand approach. With nearly one-in-six kids attending Union County public schools in North Carolina quarantined over the past two weeks, the school board voted 8-1 to stop contact tracing for positive cases and end quarantines for students who might have been exposed to the virus, according to the Charlotte Observer.
More than 7,300 kids and staff (mostly kids) were in quarantine after 479 tested positive last week.
Two weeks at home for an otherwise healthy kid is not something parents want to deal with, but they also don’t want to simply ignore the Covid-19 cases.
“I think like a lot of parents in my district and county are very upset with the decision they made. They took the authority on themselves to decide we were no longer going to do contact tracing, and effective immediately, students were to return to school that were on a current quarantine and we were no longer going to quarantine for students and staff that are not positive,” Angie McCray, a Union County parent, told CNN’s “New Day” Tuesday. “It’s very upsetting and disappointing.”
Who should quarantine and when? The district had a full 14-day quarantine, the most stringent option suggested for schools by CDC. There are separate options for 10- and 7-day quarantines for close contacts in conjunction with testing.
CDC’s guidance, as of August 5, offers a special exception to its close contact recommendations for kids in schools. It suggests quarantine only in cases where students were less than three feet from a person when one or both were unmasked. Mask requirements, therefore, could negate many quarantines.
North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper had just recently specifically encouraged Union County to adopt a mask requirement. It’s one of just a few districts in the state that doesn’t have one.
Covid-19 is everywhere. The vast majority of the county is considered to have high community transmission. Seriously, it’s 94% of counties that are in the “high” category. Look at CDC’s map. It is almost entirely red.
In Mississippi, more than 20,000 students have tested positive since school started. More than 10,000 have been in quarantine each week, according to data reports maintained by the state department of health.
In my home district in Virginia, the school sends an email to the entire school community reporting positive Covid tests. Close contacts are contacted separately and told to quarantine.
Back to virtual. One district in Georgia was forced to return to virtual learning after three bus drivers died from Covid-19. In fact, in Georgia, since school started in July, more than two dozen school workers have died from Covid-19, according to WSBTV.
In one ZIP code with especially low vaccination numbers in Philadelphia, Covid-19 cases forced some schools back to virtual.
Quarantine as personal choice. In Florida, close to 50,000 kids in the states major school districts have had to quarantine. Experts say they’re necessary to stop the spread. Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis argues parents should decide if their kid who isn’t showing symptoms should stay home.
“Deciding what color shoes your child wears to school, that’s maybe a reasonable parental choice,” Dr. Christoph Diasio, a North Carolina pediatrician, told CNN. “But when your action can imperil other people, it doesn’t feel to me like that should be in the realm of a parent’s choice.”
CNN’s Lauren Mascarenhas talked to numerous doctors and public health experts who echoed this sentiment.
The vaccine requirements for kids are coming. One expert said on CNN the answer may be requiring vaccines for eligible students, as schools in Los Angeles are doing.
“So far, we’ve not seen a lot of Covid vaccine mandates, even for the teenagers,” said pediatrician and vaccinologist Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.
“It’s gonna have to happen if we’re going to get kids through the school year,” he said.
Gonna need the vaccine to be approved first. Kids under 12 will likely have access to vaccines by the end of the year, according to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said on NBC’s “Today” show.
Masks continue to be a flashpoint. A Florida court sided with the anti-mask requirement governor there. In Iowa, a federal judge sided with supporters of mask requirements and overturned a state law banning them.
The stories vary from state to state but the theme of learning to live in the Covid-19 world is the same.