Students are headed back to class amid the coronavirus pandemic, and to keep you posted on what’s unfolding throughout U.S. schools — K-12 as well as colleges — Yahoo Life is running a weekly wrap-up featuring news bites, interviews and updates on the ever-unfolding situation.
CDC: The majority of teachers and school staff have received 1 shot of the COVID-19 vaccine
Nearly 80 percent of teachers and school employees in the U.S. have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC made the announcement on Tuesday.
"Our push to ensure that teachers, school staff, and childcare workers were vaccinated during March has paid off and paved the way for safer in-person learning," CDC director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, said in a press release. "CDC will build on the success of this program and work with our partners to continue expanding our vaccination efforts, as we work to ensure confidence in COVID-19 vaccines."
President Biden asked all states in early March to prioritize vaccination for all teachers pre-K through 12th grade, school staff and childcare workers. After the directive, the number of states where teachers and childcare workers were eligible jumped by more than 50 percent, the CDC said. Teachers and staff were prioritized through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program and were also vaccinated through school-specific vaccination events.
More than 2 million teachers, school staff and childcare workers were vaccinated through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program in March, according to CDC data, and up to 6 million were vaccinated through their state programs by the end of the month.
This level of vaccination "makes it more likely that schools will open up full-time sooner rather than later, as well as return back to normal as soon as possible," Dr. Daniel Ganjian, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center, in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Yahoo Life.
As a result of these vaccinations "the school environment is going to be a lot safer for teachers and staff," Dr. Thomas Russo, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York, tells Yahoo Life. While children under the age of 16 aren't yet eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19, Russo says that he hopes this will "afford a greater degree of protection" for kids in school.
"These layers of protection enable us to get back to full-time in-person school, which is what we really need at this point," he says.
More universities are requiring students to get vaccinated against COVID-19
In late March, Rutgers University announced that it would require all students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by the fall in order to attend in-person classes. Now, many other schools have followed.
Brown University, Cornell University, Nova Southeastern University, Northeastern University and St. Edward's University are all requiring that students be vaccinated against COVID-19 before the beginning of the fall semester, with some medical exceptions.
"We have every reason to expect that Fall 2021 at Brown will look and feel much more like Fall 2019 than Fall 2020," Brown president Christina H. Paxson said in an April 6 letter to students and staff. Cornell University president Martha E. Pollack said in a letter to students and staff that the school plans to "begin the semester with normal in-person instruction without a routinely provided online option, but with enhanced safety measures."
Russo says that he's "in favor" of requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for people on campus, noting that it will "unequivocally create a safer environment." He acknowledges that some people will think it violates their freedoms but says that there's "a good legal precedence for this," pointing to requirements for smallpox vaccinations, among others.
Ganjian applauds the move but has a concern about accessibility. "There are a lot of states that are going to have a tough time delivering the vaccine in time for students to get it," he says. But, he adds, "if the universities are able to give the vaccine, that will help."
High schools and colleges across the country are becoming vaccine clinics
Schools across the country are either hosting or plan to soon host vaccine clinics for eligible residents. Ohio is offering mobile vaccine clinics on college campuses across the state, including at Ohio University. On Tuesday, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced that Arkansas schools will be able to work with the health department, pediatricians and parents to host vaccination clinics for students 16 and over.
These clinics are crucial to getting younger people vaccinated, Russo says. "In this age group, convenience is key," he says. Ganjian agrees. "Accessibility is crucial, especially with young people, whose patience is not as high as adults," he says. "Having vaccine clinics in schools is a no-brainer and really will make it easier for kids to get vaccinated."
The hope, Ganjian says, is for this to continue as the vaccines are authorized for use in younger children as well. "Making the vaccines easily accessible for all will go a long way toward increasing the chances kids will get vaccinated," he says.
New York City is easing its controversial "two-case rule" in schools
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday that the city would be abolishing its "two-case rule" for COVID-19 cases that required schools to shift to remote learning when there were two reported and unrelated cases of the virus.
The city has extended its opt-in window for remote families to choose whether to switch to in-person learning as a result.
In place of the two-case rule, de Blasio announced a four-case rule. Individual classrooms will also shift to remote-only learning when a case is reported among a teacher or student. "This will help us to have more consistency in school attendance and schedules [and] keep strong health and safety standards," de Blasio said in a press conference.
On Friday, New York City reported 2,834 new COVID-19 cases.
Dr. Oscar G. Gomez-Duarte, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the University at Buffalo's Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, tells Yahoo Life that it's "reasonable" to think that easing the two-case rule "may increase the chances of keeping schools open without the risk of having increased transmission."
"Now that vaccine is available to everyone older than 16 years of age, easing restrictions at school may be safe," he says. But Ganjian says that "time will tell" how well this new four-case rule will work.
Russo also agrees that the new four-case rule should still be effective at limiting the spread of COVID-19. "It should help get some more education in for these last few months of the year," he says. "Hopefully, next year will be a little more normal."
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