- The highly transmissible Delta variant is making returning to in-person schooling tricky.
- Currently, children under 12 years of age are not eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
- The best protection for children who are returning back to school who cannot get vaccinated is wearing a mask, social distancing, and good hand hygiene, such as frequent hand washing.
As summer slows, schools and families are gearing up for the back-to-school season. This year, many schools will be navigating in-person learning for the first time since the start of the pandemic. But as they welcome children back into the classroom, schools will now also be tasked with preventing the Delta variant from spreading.
From May 3 to 17, only 2% of COVID-19 cases were attributed to the Delta variant. Today, 82% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. are caused by this strain, underscoring the variant’s dominance and highly contagious nature.
“The Delta variant is much more transmissible than the original virus,” Kristen Navarette, MD, MPH, pediatrician and medical director of MVP Health Care, tells Get Meds Info. “So that means that kids will be infected more easily.”
Navigating the Delta Variant in Schools
Children under 12 still aren’t approved to receive COVID-19 vaccines. And mask guidance for schools remains a mismatched patchwork nationwide.
So Navarette says that the best way to keep your children protected from the Delta variant is by taking matters into your own hands through mask-wearing, social distancing, and making sure your child’s school is following the proper precautions.
What Precautions Should Schools Be Taking?
When sending your child to in-person schooling this fall, it’s a good idea to check in on the precautions the school is implementing.
Navarette stresses how important it is to make sure school staff is vaccinated. “We put a protective layer of immunity around our kids by surrounding them with people who are vaccinated and so they’re less likely to become infected with the virus and spread it to our kids,” Navarette explains.
Viruses mutate over a period of time, according to Uzma Hasan, MD, division chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Saint Barnabas Medical Center and assistant professor at RWJ-Rutgers Medical School.
“Sometimes, the mutations make them [viruses] more contagious and spread more readily or cause more severe illness,” Hasan tells Get Meds Info.
Hasan adds that schools should have adequate ventilation. The CDC recommends the following ventilation precautions:
- Open windows and doors to increase airflow
- Use child-safe fans to increase the effectiveness of open windows
- Having activities, classes, or lunches outside when circumstances allow
- Consider the use of portable air cleaners such as high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters
You can also consider establishing a COVID pod for the fall term—a small group of students and families that meet regularly to learn and socialize together. “Whenever we can, [we should] stick with those pods as we learn more about the Delta variant,” Navarette says.
What This Means For You
If you are located in a state where a mask mandate does not exist at the school level, experts recommend sending your children to school masked. To learn more about COVID-19 prevention in schools, visit the CDC’s guide.
Children Should Be Wearing Masks
On August 2, the U.S. Department of Education released a return to school roadmap, which cited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) guidance on masking. The CDC recommends “universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status.”
The U.S. Department of Education also recommends a few key items parents should add to their checklist when preparing for the upcoming school year:
- Make a plan for eligible children to get vaccinated
- Talk to your school about health and safety protocols
- If your child isn’t eligible yet for a vaccine, talk with them about strategies to keep them safe at achool
- Make a plan to access safe transportation to and from school
- Talk to your child’s teacher about your child’s needs
- Connect to support
Still, mask mandates are dependent on school policies and state laws.
While some schools will implement mask mandates, others face an astronomical amount of pressure from their own state. In Texas, South Carolina, and Iowa, legislators passed laws banning schools from requiring students and staff to wear masks.
In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive order threatening to cut funding from school districts that implement mask mandates in the state.
If your child’s school does not implement mask-wearing policies, you should consider enforcing mask-wearing in your household anyway. Navarette implores parents to send their children to school in masks, despite local guidance. “Wearing masks is a great way to protect yourself and those around you,” Navarette says. “The best protection is when everyone is wearing masks to help prevent spreading from an infected person to a non-infected person.”
“We know that kids absolutely need to return to in-person learning,” Navarette adds. “That’s really critical for their social, emotional, and academic wellbeing. But we do need all these different layers of protection against COVID-19 in places so that can happen safely.”
The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.