COVID-19 and Schools During Fall 2021
Virtually everyone agrees that we need schools open in face-to-face modes this school year. The harm to students trying to learn "at home" instead of "at school" is too great not to open schools. Nevertheless, having schools open increases the risk for students, faculty/staff, family members, and the public. Therefore, we must do everything we can to mitigate the risks at schools.
Without universal masking and vaccination, some will die from COVID-19. Odds are it will not be your child or your child's teacher, but it will be someone's child, and it will be some child's teacher!
Without universal masking and vaccination of those eligible in schools, millions of students, faculty, and staff will contract COVID-19. Some of those contracting COVID-19 will become seriously ill and be hospitalized. Some of those hospitalized will die from COVID-19. Odds are it will not be your child or your child's teacher, but it will be someone's child, and it will be some child's teacher!
The public perception that COVID-19 does not threaten children has always been false. So far, 5,292,837 child COVID-19 cases have been reported, and children represented 15.5% of all cases in the US. Because of the higher percentage of older Americans that are now vaccinated, currently, 40% of the nation's COVID-19 cases are people under the age of 20, and the largest demographic group contracting the virus is children under 10. There have been 500,000 pediatric cases of COVID-19 in the last two weeks. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association data (as of September 9, 2021) shows that 20,436 children have been hospitalized, and 460 have died from COVID-19 during the pandemic. This data about children and COVID-19 is , admittedly, incomplete. The hospitalization data is only from 23 states and New York City. The mortality data is only from 43 states, New York City, Puerto Rico, and Guam. So, the actual numbers are higher, perhaps twice as high for hospitalization and a bit higher for deaths.
The reopening of schools this past Spring led to outbreaks both within schools and somewhat more broadly. The same has been true as schools have opened this school year. Today we have a real threat to schools remaining open because of new Covid-19 variants, particularly the delta variant. Nevertheless, much of the nation is acting as if nothing is going on. In some hard-hit states, governors have issued bans against mask mandates and vaccine mandates. In other places not so hard hit, many schools are operating without masks. A vocal minority of parents claim that they should be able to decide whether their children wear masks in school. This is a mistaken proposition because not having their child mask impacts not just their child but everyone with which that child comes into contact.
The anti-masking and anti-vaccine voices are putting the nation’s children at risk and threaten the continuation of face-to-face schooling. Our actions—or in this case inactions—could well lead us back to virtual education—something that would be terrible for the students of America.
The anti-masking and anti-vaccine voices are putting the nation’s children at risk and threaten the continuation of face-to-face schooling.
There are currently more than 100,000 persons hospitalized with COVID-19 in the United States. That is more than last August when there was no vaccine yet available. Several states, especially southern ones with low vaccination rates, are running out of ICU beds or even general hospital beds. I would suggest that you not have a severe heart attack or car accident in states such as Florida, Alabama, Texas, Idaho, or Alaska. You may not be able to get an ICU bed, or you may have to wait hours just to get into an emergency room.
The situation is quite dire as we open schools this Fall. In places where schools have opened, there are tens of thousands of students in quarantine and hundreds of classrooms and whole schools that have had to close because of the large number of COVID-19 cases. Thousands of teachers and school staff members have already become infected. More children are becoming hospitalized and even dying from the pandemic than in the past.
A few examples illustrate the difficulty of having schools open. A California elementary school did everything right. Masks were required, and they practiced social distancing. However, a teacher took her mask off for the read-aloud story time. Within days, half of her class tested positive for the delta variant of COVID. At Connally Junior High School near Waco, Texas, two social studies teachers have died from COVID-19 after school reopened for this school year. In Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, a 13-year-old healthy boy died from COVID-19, and the school he attends did not require masks.
This threat is why it is so significant that everyone eligible for vaccination gets vaccinated, including children under 12, when they become eligible. The threat is why we need universal masking in schools. The more that the virus circulates, the more that it mutates, creating new variants. Dangerous variants such as delta already exist, but the more the virus circulates, the more variants that will emerge, and they could be much worse than delta.