Tension in US over return to classroom, increase in child Covid infections

By Lucia Leal

Washington, Aug 10 (EFE).- The increase in Covid-19 infections among children and the divergence of views on masks and vaccines have overshadowed the beginning of the school year in the United States.

One in four American students returns to school this week, in many cases for the first time in person since the beginning of the pandemic, and amid nervousness about the spread of the Delta variant.

Although there is still no evidence that this variant generates more serious cases among minors, infections among children and adolescents are soaring in several states with almost 94,000 new cases detected last week, according to data from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

President Joe Biden, was “very concerned” on Tuesday about the cases of children as young as “four, five, six years old – in hospitals, on ventilators, and some of them passing.”

“The reason children are becoming infected is because, in most cases, they live in low-vaccination-rate states and communities, and they’re getting it from unvaccinated adults,” the president said at a press conference.

That problem has fueled debate among school districts, states and the Biden administration over the possibility of imposing mandates on the use of masks in classrooms or requiring proof of vaccination from teachers.

About 90 percent of the country’s teachers are already vaccinated, according to the two largest teacher unions in the country, but establishing that requirement would send an important message to the rest of the school personnel and the parents of the students, according to the promoters of the measure.

Vaccines approved in the US are only licensed for use in those aged 12 and older, which worries many parents, especially in cities and states whose leaders are reluctant to enforce the mandatory use of masks in schools.

Seven states have prohibited the imposition of mask mandates in schools, a measure that has generated strong resistance in Florida and Texas, where infection numbers are high.

Two of Texas’ top school districts, Dallas and Austin, announced mask mandates for all students, staff and visitors on Tuesday in direct defiance of the order of the state’s Republican governor Greg Abbott.

In addition, San Antonio and Bexar County authorities filed a lawsuit Tuesday in order to be able to require the use of face masks in schools.

In Florida, the state with the highest rate of infections in the country, Governor Ron DeSantis threatened Monday to suspend the salaries of school board members and superintendents who defy the executive order outlawing mask mandates, as Alachua, Duval and Broward counties have already done.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki hinted Tuesday that the Biden government could resort to funds from the pandemic rescue plan that, she said, Florida has not yet distributed, to pay those who order the use of masks.

In general, infections and hospitalizations in the US are at their highest since February due to the spread of the Delta variant, with an increase of 33.7 percent in cases and 40 percent in hospital admissions in the last week, according to official data.

That means that there are twice as many infections as a year ago, when the school year began in many cases remotely, and 19 percent of the cases correspond to minors, according to data from the end of July from AAP.

Although that association estimates that only 1 percent of infected children end up admitted to hospital, last week there was an average of 216 children hospitalized each day, the same level as during the health crisis in January.

The AAP wrote a letter last week to the Food and Drug Administration asking it to authorize vaccination for children aged 5-11 as soon as possible.

However, it is not clear that this is the solution either, given that a third of Americans who are old enough to get the vaccine are still reluctant to do so, and half of parents of children between 13 and 17 years old are undecided if they will vaccinate their children. EFE


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