Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today

An uncertain return to school.,

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This is the Coronavirus Briefing, an informed guide to the pandemic. Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.

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The third school year of the pandemic is upon us, and virtually no one is happy with where things stand.

“Essentially, a year later, we’re in much the same place we were in last year with the challenge of keeping children safe,” Raymond Hart, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, told our colleagues Dana Goldstein and Tariro Mzezewa.

There is now broad, bipartisan support for classrooms to be open five days a week, but that was based on evidence from last year that the coronavirus did not spread widely inside schools. The surge in the Delta variant has introduced new uncertainty.

Many parents are frustrated at the lack of advice for families, particularly those with children under 12 years old who are not yet eligible for a Covid vaccine, our colleague Tara Parker-Pope reported.

Schools are being squeezed by several converging factors: The inexorable start of the school year, the rise of the Delta variant and the delayed rollout of pediatric vaccines.

The end result is that millions of children are heading back to school as the pandemic hits new peaks in several states, including many where governments have outlawed mask mandates and other safeguards.

Here is a rundown of where things stand:

At least 17 states, many with Democratic governors, have required masks in schools, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy. And at least seven states, many with Republican governors, have banned or nullified mask mandates in schools.

On Friday, a Florida court rejected Gov. Ron DeSantis’s effort to ban mask mandates. The state’s largest districts had already defied his order.

In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott is fighting with local school districts that are openly defying his ban on mask mandates. Some parents of young children with disabilities are suing him, arguing that the ban prevents their children from being able to attend school safely.

A recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 63 percent of parents wanted masks in schools for people who were unvaccinated.

Oregon, California, Washington State, Hawaii, Illinois and New Jersey will require vaccines for teachers, though the rules will vary. All have Democratic governors. The three largest districts in the country — New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago — also have vaccine mandates.

At least 15 Republican-led states have banned vaccine mandates, according to N.A.S.H.P., although the F.D.A.’s full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine could render some of that legislation moot.

Half of the 12- to 17-year-olds in the U.S. have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, the White House said on Friday. But two of the nation’s top public health officials — Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert — have said a pediatric vaccine is not likely in early fall.

Outbreaks are already sending many students back to remote learning. In Mississippi, about 15 percent of all students have been quarantined since the start of the year, The Mississippi Free Press reported.

New York City will test a random sample of 10 percent of unvaccinated people in schools every other week. When someone in a classroom tests positive, unvaccinated close contacts will have to quarantine for 10 days.

Even with the unavoidable shutdowns and quarantines, parents should not despair, as Tara wrote in her Well newsletter this week.

Studies show that schools have not been a major source of Covid spreading events, particularly when a number of preventive measures are in place.

Several precautions have been effective: requiring masks indoors; keeping students at least three feet apart in classrooms; separating students into cohorts or “pods”; encouraging hand washing and regular testing; and quarantining.

While many of those studies were conducted before the Delta variant became dominant, they also happened when most teachers, staff and parents were unvaccinated. Public health experts are hopeful that the same precautions will work well this fall.

“Delta does not require a complete overhaul of school mitigation strategies compared with last year,” Sarah Zhang wrote in The Atlantic. “The same tools still work.”

For more:


In this latest chapter of “Our Changing Lives,” we asked our readers to share their concerns and plans for the school year. Thank you all for your replies: We received over 130 submissions and read each one.

Here are some responses from around the country.

Plans

I will be home-schooling this year. Our 6-year-old has epilepsy and he’s finally medication-free. If we have a setback (his seizures are triggered by high fevers) it would be devastating. He’s come too far for us to risk exposure. — Dawn C., 39, Marcellus, N.Y.

I am thankful that our child is vaccinated, especially now with the Delta variant running rampant. Overall, wearing a mask all day and maintaining social distance hasn’t hampered her enjoying school, having fun learning and making new friends, thanks to the amazing teachers and administrators. — Nidal, 42, Atlanta

Frustrations

In Florida, we haven’t been given a choice like last year when we kept all three of our kids home 100 percent of the time. The classes are the same size. There are no mask mandates: Teachers, principals and office staff don’t even pretend to mask anymore. They have the children sitting with roughly five students per table. We have no options. We are terrified for them. — Kayte Bush, 43, Dunedin, Fla. Her oldest son is vaccinated, but her 11-year-old twins are not yet eligible.

Unless I quit my job (which means I wouldn’t be able to pay the bills), I don’t have a choice but to send them to school. — Marjorie Flanagan, 41, Austin, Texas

Worries

My greatest concern is people sending their kids to school even though they know they’re sick. They do it during a normal school year, so I don’t see it changing. — Natalie Fragiadakis, a 44-year-old teacher in Las Vegas

My kids, 9 and 11, have been anxious. Not about Covid, but about social aspects and lack of academic confidence. I’m most concerned that they have fallen behind and this will have a lasting effect on their lives. — Angela Schmieder 44, Orion, Ill.

That my kids will lose their friends. Last year, even with mask requirements, I noticed some sidelong looks from their friends whose parents often promote anti-masking. I really like these families and the difference in opinion during Covid has been a strain. — Angela Preuss, 40, Denville, N.J.

Lunch is a quandary. It feels like sending them into a firing squad. They really want to go back in person. — Stacy Ebron, 47, who has a 6- and a 9-year-old child in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Mask and vaccine mandates. We are not OK with them. — Adam McMillen, Sparks, Nev.

My kids missing out on childhood. Last year, my kids did online learning through their Texas school district. This year, their school isn’t offering online learning nor requiring masks, so we’re home-schooling. — Heather Strawser, 40, Houston

That my decision will cause my child and others to get really sick. — Anna, 34, Bellingham, Wash.



Our colleagues on the Well desk are full of advice to help kids transition back into school.

Let us know how you’re dealing with the pandemic. Send us a response here, and we may feature it in an upcoming newsletter.

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