Schools are preparing to reopen, bringing back millions of K-12 students after a year of disrupted learning.
But with the Delta variant of the coronavirus driving a surge in hospitalizations, in addition to mask bans in some states with relatively low local vaccination rates, the safe return to class for unvaccinated children is becoming increasingly complex.
"It is really unfortunate, both for school districts and for parents as well, because we put school districts in tough positions," Dr. Sara Moran Bode, council chairperson-elect for the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Council on School Health, told Yahoo Finance Live (video above).
Bode added that "this Delta variant is just more infectious, meaning it's easier to pass from child to child or child to parents and adult. And so it's concerning to us that we're having kids back in school without any of those other protections [such as masking] in place."
As of August 5, states that had moved to prevent school districts from mandating masks included Texas, Florida, South Carolina, Iowa, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Arizona and Utah. None of those states currently boast a fully vaccinated population of more than 50% amid the latest surge of cases.
"Everyone [going to a school] should be wearing a mask — that's just the expectation when they get on the bus, when they get into the classroom," Dr. Bode advised. "We'll go a long way towards not only getting kids back to school, but keeping them so that they're not having another outbreak."
“We know things can change quickly,” Mark Lane, superintendent of Decorah Community School District in Iowa, who is recommending masking in schools amid a state ban on masks, told Yahoo Finance. “And so it’s been really key for us to just stay abreast of the best information at the time... [and in] making sure our learning environments are as safe as possible.”
Bode echoed that sentiment, explaining that measures like social distancing and mask mandates worked last year for schools.
"Students went to school," she said. "They wore their mask. We had good compliance with this, and we know that it was effective."
'Protecting our kids until they can get vaccinated.'
As the school year approaches, the U.S. is now averaging more than 100,000 new confirmed COVID-19 cases a day for the first time since February, and the CDC is now recommending that everyone in areas with high transmission — regardless of vaccination status — wear masks indoors.
There were nearly 94,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in children between July 29 and August 5, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), comprising about 15% of the total confirmed U.S. cases during that time period. (Previous versions of the coronavirus were less contagious among children.)
Consequently, Bode added, the lack of masking in some parts of the country "is a concerning trend [that] we want to watch and make sure we're protecting our kids until they can get vaccinated."
According to Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, the “odds are high” that a vaccine for all children under the age of 12 will be approved by the FDA within the upcoming school year.
“It’s tough,” Dr. Payal Patel, an infectious diseases physician at the University of Michigan, told Yahoo Finance. “We’ve had over a year to learn about the spread of the virus, what can help to reduce that. And I’m really looking forward to those vaccines coming out for the younger population.”
In the meantime, for parents with children returning to school this fall, Patel highlighted key things to ask.
“What I would say is if you’re a parent and your child is starting, you want to see: What is your school doing? Are they helping with ventilation? Are they talking about masks in school?” she said. “We know those things really do reduce spread and until we get more kids vaccinated, we’re going to have to rely on the things we know have worked in that last year.”
Correction: This post previously stated that Decorah Community School District Superindendent Mark Lane imposed a mask mandate in defiance of a state order. This is incorrect. Lane is encouraging masking in schools, citing CDC guidelines, despite a state ban on mask mandates. We've clarified the post to reflect this.
Aarthi is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @aarthiswami.
Adriana Belmonte is a reporter and editor for Yahoo Finance. You can follow her on Twitter @adrianambells.