What the school year may hold

The Infectious Disease Society of America discussed keeping children and teenagers safe in the upcoming school year.

In only a matter of weeks, children and teenagers will be back at school. Many schools will be dropping virtual only or hybrid model learning at the start of the year. With so many children returning to the classroom as well as the rise of the delta variant of COVID-19, there are many questions that parents and older patients may have about returning. To address these concerns, the Infectious Disease Society of America held a briefing this morning to tackle the biggest questions in both K-12 and higher education and the delta variant.

Contemporary Pediatrics’ editor-in-chief Tina Q. Tan, MD, FAAP, FIDSA, FPIDS, stressed that COVID-19 was definitely a cause for concern in children with 41 million infected with the disease, 18,000 requiring hospitalization, and 350 deaths. In addition, over 4000 of those children also developed multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children. Tan said that all who are eligible to be vaccinated should do so, nothing that only 30% of children aged 12 to 17 years are fully vaccinated. She affirmed her support of the American Academy of Pediatrics universal masking recommendations, in addition to maintaining social distancing of at least 3 feet, creating small cohorts of students and staff, and ensuring good hand hygiene as well as good ventilation. Due to the difficulty in implementing a protocol, testing in K-12 is likely not going to be common. Tan did address the fact that a number of states and cities have indicated that they will not require masking in schools. In those cases, she recommended that parents still send children to school with a mask as well as encouraging the child to maintain distance when possible.

Higher education offers a much different scenario said Preeti Malani, MD, MS, MSJ, FIDSA, FSHEA, professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases, University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Some institutions of higher education have mandated the vaccination for all students returning to campus, with a judge upholding one at Indiana University in Bloomington and some are setting additional fees for students who choose to go unvaccinated. Malani did note the institutions should be prepared to provide the vaccine for international students, as many may be unable to get the vaccine in their home country or the vaccine they did receive may not be one of those approved in the United States. She emphasized that even with the vaccine that the return to campus is not free of risk, but students who are vaccinated and are returning to campuses in communities with a high vaccination rate and low spread of the disease should feel comfortable with their risk level.