As I See It – Do we need to vaccinate students before going back to school?

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While many schools nationwide already opened their classrooms for in-person attendance, a brewing debate is still going on as to reopening and whether to vaccinate students before allowing them to go back to school.

I think this is to ascertain the safety and well being of students and allay the fears of parents, teachers and school administrators before students go back to school. It is actually a positive move to consider before any decision is made to be prepared for any eventualities due to the surge.

Many say there is no need for kids because they are less likely to get the virus… they don’t need Covid-19 vaccines to return to school. With this, does it mean we have to vaccinate students 15 years old and above because they are more likely to get the virus? Perhaps, this is the on-going debate among stakeholders to make sure everything will be fine before school administrators make their decisions.

In an article written by Vinay Prasad: “…for kids, the risk of missing school dwarfs the risk of Covid-19. Kids are less likely to acquire SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, than adults. Several meta-analyses confirm that in contract tracing studies, kids are approximately half as likely to acquire the virus as other household contacts with the same exposure.”

The article further state: “In addition, the risk of death or other bad outcomes is low for children. Between March and October of 2020, among those between the ages of five and 14, the risk of dying of Covid-19 in the United States was 1 in 1,000,000. To put that in perspective, in that same age group during non-Covid times, the risk of suicide is 10 times higher. For young adults ages 15 to 24, the risk of dying from Covid19 was 9.9 in 1,000,000, and they are also generally 10 times more likely to commit suicide.”

So, what happened to schools that already opened but did not vaccinate their students? Well, I just assumed that the schools exercised utmost safety and COVID-19 protocol to safeguard their students.

Nicole Chavez wrote: “Desks are spaced 6 feet apart; temperature checks are routine and students’ lunch together in small groups.” These are the realities in the classrooms today, an overhaul of the traditional classroom, as schools in Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee and Indiana opened their doors for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic abruptly shuttered classrooms across the United States.

Chavez learned that from the schools that have already reopened, more students and teachers are testing positive for COVID-19. It was also noted that there has been a 90% increase in the number of COVID-19 cases among children in the United States, according to a recent analysis by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association (AAPCHA).

In schools about to start within a week or so, recent analysis showed that several clusters of coronavirus cases emerged in Florida, Georgia and Mississippi.

School districts in several states, including Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi and Oklahoma directed students, teachers and staff members were placed in quarantine following reports of at least 230 cases of COVID-19 linked to their institutions, according to a CNN tally.

Dr. Thomas Dobbs, Mississippi’s health director, said earlier this week that at least 22 schools in the state reported COVID-19 cases among students and staff members since classes began.

Some schools were forced to suddenly change plans switching to a full or partial schedule of online classes with the intent of returning to full in-person instruction as soon as possible.

Two other high schools in Georgia — Woodstock High School and Etowah High School — temporarily moved to remote classes after 14 cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in each school and 15 people were awaiting test results, according to the Cherokee County School District.

More than 1,100 students, teachers and staff members at more than a dozen Cherokee County public schools have been placed in two-week quarantines, the school district said.

The other schools are being asked to social distance and use masks. “As your Superintendent, I wear a mask whenever I cannot social distance. We know all parents do not believe the scientific research that indicates masks are beneficial, but I believe it and see masks as an important measure to help us keep schools open,” Hightower said.

I talked to one of my teacher-friend who opted to stay anonymous and said that in their school, they check the temperature of their students coming in campus. Then they are placed in a 14-day quarantine in their respective dorms (one student per room in a quarantine dorm designated for that purpose).

As to their meal, these are being picked up by their Residential Advisers (RA) and deliver them to their individual rooms. Students are confined in their rooms and are not allowed to wander around in the dorm.

After their 14-day quarantine, that’s the time they are placed in the classroom. They need to follow classroom procedures such as maintaining social distancing and wearing a mask at all times. The instructor sanitizes the classroom before the students enter the classroom. There is a sanitizing station in the corner of the classroom for students to sanitize themselves before and after class. They have their individual binders and are assigned their respective computers/tables 6-feet apart from each other.

After the quarantine period, still they are not allowed to leave the campus while they can already roam around the campus and join social development-approved activites observing CDC protocols.

In California, there is a partial closure in effect. Gov. Gavin Newsom is encouraging schools to reopen for in-person instruction in early spring, but they must meet key thresholds in health metrics set out by the state. The governor is seeking $2 billion in incentive funding to support a return to face-to-face instruction.

Texas ordered schools to be open. Texas requires school districts to provide daily, on-campus learning for any family who wants it in order to not lose state funding due to declines in enrollment. School districts can require individual students who are falling behind academically to return to in-person classes.

In West Virginia, some grades were ordered open. On February 23, the West Virginia State Board of Education mandated that all elementary and middle schools be open five days a week. Schools may request a waiver to offer in-person instruction only four days a week if the same teachers are instructing both in-person and remote students. The Board recommended that high schools provide five days of in-person instruction, unless they are in areas of high disease spread as determined by state health department.

As school campuses, reopen., virus outbreaks are unavoidable, according to experts. Safety measures can help lower, but not eliminate the risk of virus transmission, according to Dania Maxwell of Los Angeles Times.

for schools that reopen.

Schools that reopen must adhere to the state’s strict health and safety protocols that include social distancing, mask requirements, deep cleaning and sending home students who might be sick.

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“As long as Covid-19 is circulating in communities, it should be expected that cases will be reported in a variety of settings, including among school students, teachers and staff in schools that have reopened for in-person learning,” a department spokesperson wrote in an email to EdSource.

In schools that reopened, students have their temperatures checked each day as they enter the campus. Inside the classroom, each desk has its own sneeze guard. And there are new rules to ensure physical distancing, such as having some students eat lunch outside, keeping students in their cohorts even at recess and bringing students to school just two days a week.

If a student or staff member tests positive, that person should be sent home to quarantine for 14 days, according to the state’s guidance. Anyone who came within close contact of that individual should also be sent home to quarantine for 14 days.

The debate continues but what is certain is that vaccines are important and perhaps students and instructors need to be vaccinated!

(ELPIDIO R. ESTIOKO was a veteran journalist in the Philippines and a multi-awarded journalist here in the US. For feedbacks, comments… please email the author at estiokoelpidio@gmail.com.)

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