As Schools Return, COVID Cases Rise
This week AM analysts are tracking reporting of COVID-19 cases among school-aged children. The new school year has already begun in many areas across the United States amid ongoing battles over mask wearing guidance, surging delta variant cases, and rising hospitalization rates. As more children get tested for COVID-19, schools across the United States are experiencing a growing number of new infections. For example, in California, 3,255 Los Angeles Unified School District students tested positive for COVID-19 in the two weeks leading up to the start of the academic year.
California is not alone. NPR has reported that over 90,000 children have contracted COVID-19, representing 15% of all new cases. For the few schools that have returned to in-person learning, many of the students have been sent home to self-isolate and some states are beginning to temporarily cancel classes. Florida asked 440 students to quarantine just two days into the school year after 51 students and faculty had confirmed cases of COVID-19. New Orleans School District saw almost 300 active COVID-19 cases and more than 3,000 students and staff are in quarantine. A top Mississippi health official said that about 20,000 students are currently quarantined for COVID-19 exposure in the state. The USA Today reported that Ware County Georgia closed all of its public schools due to a “sharp increase” in cases – more than 800 students and faculty are currently in quarantine, and in Mississippi, Greene County High School and Leakesville Jr. High sent staff and students home and shifted to distance learning until August 30 due to a surge in cases. These alarming numbers prove once again that COVID-19 is disrupting the lives of children, parents, and school officials and is making a return to in-person learning more challenging.
Parents are also concerned about their unvaccinated children and many are frustrated at the lack of advice for children under 12 who are ineligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. Many are wondering what they can do to keep their children safe. This comes as the number of children hospitalized with COVID-19 in the United States hit a record high of just over 1,900.
Scientists and health experts believe that getting vaccinated is key to combating the spread of COVID-19, but also advise that vaccinations should be layered with universal masking and social distancing. Dr. Alok Patel, a pediatrician at Stanford Children’s Health said that it is extremely important for anyone above the age of 12 to get vaccinated. “The delta variant is acting like a homing missile targeting the unvaccinated, with cases rising all over the country. Children are less likely to be hospitalized, but they can pass on the virus to others, including those who are at higher risk, such as grandparents or anyone with an underlying medical condition,” he said. Dr. Deborah Greenhouse, a pediatrician in Columbia, South Carolina, agrees. “We cannot get past this without very high immunization rates. We have never been able to eradicate a virus or get out of a pandemic without a vaccine before, and there is no reason to think that we would this time. As these variant strains emerge, they are more contagious and can cause more severe disease sometimes, just like what we are seeing with the delta variant now. And the only way we can prevent these variant strains from emerging is to have a high enough vaccine rate so that these variants have nowhere to go, so they don’t have a host,” Greenhouse said.
Although vaccination rates are improving, health officials say it may not be enough to ward off outbreaks. President and CEO of COX Health, Steve Edwards, admits that physicians are deeply concerned about the data he and others are seeing across the nation – in one week, COVID-19 cases among US children and teens jumped 84%. Local pediatrician Dr. Elizabeth Dunlap said she’s seen more positive COVID-19 cases in kids the past few weeks than she has during the entire pandemic. “I would say on average we are probably having five a day, that is a lot for an office my size,” Dunlap said.
The entire pandemic has taught us that we are unable to predict the future. No one knows how many children will be impacted by the rampant rise of COVID-19 in schools this fall. What we do know is that the number one priority will be keeping them safe. CDC has issued guidance to help keep children safe inside the classrooms. In addition to social distancing and masking, all schools should deploy regular testing, invest in updated ventilation systems, and stagger lunches. Frequent handwashing, contact tracing, and isolation can also keep children safe. Parents can do their part by keeping children home when they feel unwell and requiring them to wear masks in public indoor settings or when they are around individuals outside of their household. While it is unclear how the fall season will unfold for students and parents, AM analysts will continue to monitor the latest developments and will track COVID-19 cases and school closures.
AM LLC is currently working nationwide with multiple states and public health agencies on testing, contact tracing, and vaccination programs. Counties, states, or K-12 partners that are interested in partnering with AM for COVID-19 mitigation support should contact Dr. Christopher K Orlea at email@example.com.