Elementary, middle and high schools in the United States will start this month. As the United States is working hard to return to normal, students will be able to attend classes in person. But open schools put many parents in a painful situation. The number of pediatric hospitalizations for COVID has reached Record highs in some areas, Several governors have Prohibition of wearing masks in public schools, And there is no vaccine for children under 12 years of age. All eyes are on how the spread of the Delta variant across the country may affect the safety of children and disrupt the return to school plan.
In order to formulate a route through these uncertainties, Scientific american Ask experts in childhood infectious diseases and epidemiology what a good scenario for returning to school looks like. Doctors and scientists also provide strategies for what parents can do when their choices are limited and difficult. The following is what the experts say.
With masks, low-risk face-to-face education can be conducted.
Dean Bloomberg, director of the Department of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the Children’s Hospital of the University of California, Davis, said that even before the vaccine was available, the school’s mask regulations were effective. In the 2020-2021 school year (before Delta spreads widely), school masks are in place and the spread of the virus is restricted.A report on North Carolina schools earlier this year stated Only 363 cases of intra-school transmission Wearing masks is the norm among more than 1 million students, faculty and staff in 100 school districts and 14 charter schools. The key is”Kids can follow Blumberg said, noting that there is evidence that more than 90% of school children do this.
Sara Bode, medical director of school health services at the National Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and incoming chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics School Health Executive Committee, said that face-to-face school education is very important. Virtual courses may reduce the chance of virus exposure. But she said that there are other risks associated with distance learning, including “significant academic losses, as well as social and emotional struggles.”
Bode agreed with Bloomberg’s view that the evidence supports the view that children can insist on wearing masks, and that this practice greatly reduced infections in the pre-delta era. Bode said that to work properly, the mask should cover the nose and the bottom of the chin and should not be opened. And it’s important to have a cover that makes the child feel comfortable. “The masks they have been wearing are the best choice of masks,” she said.
Schools that do not need to wear masks put students at greater health risks.
Schools that do not wear masks not only expose children to a higher risk of virus transmission, but also allow them to experience the experience of swinging back and forth between virtual classrooms and face-to-face classrooms Schools are closed due to the epidemic, Reopen afterwards. Some regions are weakening authorization and turning it into more obscure recommendations. Bode said that such an initiative “is canceling the safety measures that we know are effective. This is a method that will definitely return to full virtual learning. Back and forth, which is not conducive to [children’s] Mental Health. “
Masks are expected to fight Delta, but experts are paying close attention to this variant.
Delta variants are more contagious than other versions of the coronavirus. Some studies have found that the patients infected with it are More likely to be hospitalized Compared with patients infected with previous mutations. Katelyn Jetelina, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, said how these characteristics will affect children’s mitigation measures is unclear. “But I am very confident that if public health mitigation measures are not implemented, we will see a large amount of transmission in schools,” she said. “This hasn’t come close to doing it for the kids.”
Vaccination and ventilation are very important.
Blumberg said the school “needs to work harder in front of Delta”. This means ensuring that “everyone who is eligible to be vaccinated is vaccinated,” including students 12 years and older and adults working in these institutions.
“The most powerful tool we have now is vaccination, and those students who are 12 years of age and older should be vaccinated,” said Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.
Unfortunately, Jetelina pointed out that even eligible students did not get a high vaccination rate. She said that for students under the age of 12, “we are lucky to get the vaccine before December.” The low absorption rate of eligible students may increase the risk for young students. The mixing of vaccinated and unvaccinated students is another reason why schools should mandate full-face masks. Jetlina said that implementing policies for people of all ages is “cleaner”.
Another key safety measure is ventilation and air filtration. Benjamin said that in the past year, federal funds have been allocated to some older public schools to update their airflow systems. Jetelina said this is very important. Good ventilation, including open doors and windows, is “very effective in reducing transmission.”The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems It should be set to introduce as much outdoor air as possible, and it should be equipped with a high-efficiency filterExperts say that the physical space between students is not as important as other factors. According to evidence, if they wear a mask, there is no difference in transmission between them at a distance of three to six feet.
Adults can also set an example by covering up.
Bode said that since it is currently difficult to monitor the vaccine status of everyone in the United States, wearing masks for people of all ages in schools is the best way to ensure that the spread of the disease is reduced. She said: “Even in the group of students eligible for the vaccine, we cannot confidently say that no one needs to cover up.”
Regardless of the vaccine status, another reason for using universal masks is to normalize the wearing of masks for young children. Bloomberg said that role models are important. “It would be great if authority figures or teachers also masked,” he said.
Parents may need to take the lead and react to local conditions and politics.
Local factors will affect the risk-benefit balance of school children. Jetelina said that the county level needs to pay attention to two indicators: the number of COVID cases per 100,000 people per day and the percentage of local new coronavirus tests positive. When these numbers start to climb, so too does the risk. Parents can consult with local public health agencies — many of which maintain websites with this information — to determine what these numbers mean for the risks to local schools.
To make matters worse, some states oppose wearing masks and other disease control measures.For example, in Texas, Governor Greg Abbott-himself Recently tested positive For COVID- Public schools have been banned from establishing mask or vaccine regulations. In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis (Ron DeSantis) did the same. In these two states, the number of disease cases and positive COVID test results in several places are soaring.
Experts are annoyed by these obstacles. Bloomberg said, “School districts should be allowed to decide for themselves whether they will adopt a policy that requires masks based on local conditions determined by the county public health department.”
Benjamin agreed.When asked Recent policies announced by the Texas Department of Education Administrators do not need to notify parents of the occurrence of COVID cases in the school. He said that “the ability to prohibit schools from sharing this information with parents is not good medical practice or good public health practice.” Benjamin said, when parents cannot understand the health of the school At times, this is another reason to ensure that children wear masks.
Adults can work hard to prevent bullying of masks.
Benjamin said that if there are no clear health standards, such as the regulation of wearing masks, there will be “a toxic environment, because children wear masks, you will be bullied and stigmatized. When we put these children in this terrible We will hurt them for the rest of our lives.”
Adults must work hard to keep this type of activity and toxicity low. “Teachers must be sensitive to the needs of these children,” Benjamin said. Jetelina said that parents may have to bear the additional burden of advocating safety measures to local and state leaders. In the absence of authorization, the adults concerned may need to conduct volunteer tests or cooperate with schools, viewing masks as a positive option. “Even if they can’t force it, [schools] Can highly recommend it,” she said.
The lack of masks will exacerbate educational inequality.
Bode worries that when schools are closed due to improper safety measures due to the epidemic, the closure will exacerbate the education gap between poor and wealthy communities. A clear example is the first year of the pandemic, when many public school districts in large cities did not resume face-to-face learning as quickly as some private schools. “Community support for implementing safety measures is important to ensure that every public school district provides the same opportunities for children,” Bode said. She added that in the absence of a requirement to wear masks, parents must resort to “pressure from the grassroots community.” If parents lack the time and resources to make such efforts, the gap with wealthier communities may widen.
Despite this, she said that if measures such as mandatory masks and vaccination requirements are not widely used, the road to ending the pandemic will still be far away. Bloomberg agreed. He said: “We have all these tools in our toolbox to control this epidemic, and it doesn’t make sense to start throwing them away when they are needed most.”