Back to school usually means school supply shopping, catching up with old friends, and making new friends. But with the second school year starting during a pandemic, students, teachers, and administrations face new challenges as the Delta variant surges.
Tragically 11-year-old Jordyn Franklin and 13-year-old Makayla Robinson died recently after exposure to COVID-19. Local news reports indicate Robinson is the fifth child to die in Mississippi during the pandemic.
Citing a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Forbes reported severe cases resulting in hospitalizations or death were uncommon for children. It’s estimated that nearly 20% of new COVID-19 cases are happening among children.
Most cases do not seem to be serious enough to cause hospitalization. The increase in the child hospitalization rate since the Delta variant’s emergence suggests that children are a potentially vulnerable population.
With the Delta variant impacting children at a greater rate, it requires a change in thinking about kids and their exposure to the virus. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics data, 42% of 16-17-year-olds and 31% of 12-15-year-olds were fully vaccinated.
But when looking at a state-by-state analysis, many of the same states exploding with hospitalizations have low rates of children receiving at least their first dose. A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found Black parents were more likely than white parents to cite issues with vaccine access or perceived barriers such as affordability or not having insurance. The survey also found that low-income parents were less likely to have available leave to take their children to get vaccinated.
The Wall Street Journal highlighted a possible change with parents being more open to vaccination as cases continue to rise. As children under 12 cannot receive vaccinations, masks have become an important tool in the fight against the Delta variant.
The Louisiana chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics urged Gov. John Bel Edwards to mandate masks while indoors during the school day. Edwards recently instituted an indoor mask mandate for everyone age 5 or older through Sept. 1. But the 750-member organization strongly suggests making the mandate apply for the duration of the school year.
Meanwhile, in Florida, schools are faced with ignoring the growing crisis or defying Gov. Ron DeSantis and require children to wear masks. Schools in Orange and Seminole counties required masks with an option for parents to send in a note to opt their kids out. My News 13 reported only 4% of students returned an opt-out note at the start of school last week.
The superintendent of Miami-Dade Public Schools recommended mandatory masks with an opt-out for medical accommodations starting Aug. 23. Local 10 News reported the school board would make the final decision on Wednesday.
The Broward County School Board also gave the go-ahead for a district-wide mask mandate. The local Miami outlet, 7 News, covered the district’s defense of its mask mandate.
“We believe in science,” Dr. Rosalind Osgood, chair of the Broward County School Board, told CBS’ Face of the Nation. “At the end of the day, lives are invaluable, and we have to make sure we use the tools that we can to mitigate this pandemic. We have to protect them at all costs.”