Just a few months after it seemed as though life was finally going back to normal, the Delta variant has reignited COVID outbreaks across the U.S., bringing the pandemic roaring back along with it. Now, many health officials are debating which safety measures need to be revived in public spaces, including some bringing back mandatory mask mandates even for fully vaccinated people. And one expert is warning that there’s one place that may be forced to shut down even more than last year thanks to the Delta variant: Schools.
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During an interview on NBC’s Today show, Richard Besser, former acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), warned that the highly contagious strain would make it particularly difficult to keep kids in classrooms. “I expect that it’s going to jump around different classrooms and schools will be forced to shut down more than they did in fact last year,” he said.
Besser explained that while remote learning took up the bulk of last year’s academic calendar, the return to in-person classes could prove to be especially challenging given that children under the age of 12 still aren’t eligible to be vaccinated. Instead, other measures will have to be taken if students are going to remain on campus safely.
“I think this fall is going to be really challenging for schools,” he said. “I think children belong in the classroom. But what we’re going to see is little outbreaks, clusters in different schools, schools shutting down, reopening. The more we can do to reduce the number of times that happens, the better. And wearing masks for everyone will help to accomplish that.”
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Besser’s warning comes as recently released data from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Children’s Hospital Association showed a major surge in COVID-19 cases in children. New infections in kids totaled 93,824 during the week of July 29 through Aug. 5, with the AAP reporting: “After declining in early summer, child cases have steadily increased since the beginning of July.”
Other leading experts weighed in on the dangers of children returning to school as the Delta variant continuesto spread. “Kids under 12 can’t get vaccines, this Delta virus is very transmissible, so we need to be in school for our kids, with our kids, but we need to keep everyone safe,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said during an interview with CNBC on Aug. 11. “And that means vaccines are the single most important way to do it, and the second way to do it is masks.”
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In some areas, health departments and school districts have responded by enacting universal indoor mask mandates for all teachers, staff, visitors, and students K-12 regardless of vaccination status following recently updated CDC guidelines. However, in places such as Florida and Texas, some school officials have been forced to enact mask mandates in defiance of statewide bans that have been put in place to prohibit them.
When it comes to keeping kids in the classroom, even President Joe Biden was uncertain of how the school year may play out. “My concerns are deep and I’m very concerned,” he said when asked by reporters about children returning to school. “I also understand that the reason children are becoming infected is because, in most cases, they live in low-vaccination rate states and communities, and they’re getting it from unvaccinated adults. That’s what’s happening. And so my plea is that for those not vaccinated, think about it.”
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