Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today
An uncertain return to school.,
This is the Coronavirus Briefing, an informed guide to the pandemic. Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.
India has given at least one vaccine shot to more than half of its eligible population.
A large new study from China found half of hospitalized Covid patients had lingering symptoms one year later.
Canada authorized the Moderna vaccine for those 12 and older.
Trepidation for the fall semester
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.
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.
Testing and quarantines
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.”
Districts are desperate for bus drivers after thousands were furloughed, fell ill or quit during the pandemic.
In Britain, young children do not wear masks in school. The country has relied more on quarantines and rapid at-home tests to keep outbreaks small.
“Learning setbacks range from grave for all groups of students to catastrophic for poor children,” The Times’s Editorial Board wrote this week.
Parents speak out
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.
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
Understand Vaccine and Mask Mandates in the U.S.
- Vaccine rules. On Aug. 23, the Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and up, paving the way for an increase in mandates in both the public and private sectors. Private companies have been increasingly mandating vaccines for employees. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.
- Mask rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July recommended that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public places within areas experiencing outbreaks, a reversal of the guidance it offered in May. See where the C.D.C. guidance would apply, and where states have instituted their own mask policies. The battle over masks has become contentious in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.
- College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.
- Schools. Both California and New York City have introduced vaccine mandates for education staff. A survey released in August found that many American parents of school-age children are opposed to mandated vaccines for students, but were more supportive of mask mandates for students, teachers and staff members who do not have their shots.
- Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get a Covid-19 vaccine, citing rising caseloads fueled by the Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their work force.
- New York City. Proof of vaccination is required of workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances and other indoor situations, although enforcement does not begin until Sept. 13. Teachers and other education workers in the city’s vast school system will need to have at least one vaccine dose by Sept. 27, without the option of weekly testing. City hospital workers must also get a vaccine or be subjected to weekly testing. Similar rules are in place for New York State employees.
- At the federal level. The Pentagon announced that it would seek to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for the country’s 1.3 million active-duty troops “no later” than the middle of September. President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees would have to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.
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
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.
What else we’re following
W.H.O. officials say Africa’s third wave of the pandemic is stabilizing.
Denmark says Covid is no longer a ‘socially critical disease.’
A large study found that people were at substantially higher risk of blood clots from getting infected with Covid than from taking an AstraZeneca or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
A spokesman for Myanmar’s junta said that Rohingya people would be vaccinated.
Tips for a strong semester
Our colleagues on the Well desk are full of advice to help kids transition back into school.
If you’re a parent, here are four ways to calm your own back-to-school fears.
Try these suggestions as your children return to in-person classes.
Let us know how you’re dealing with the pandemic. Send us a response here, and we may feature it in an upcoming newsletter.