With the first day of school less than a month away for many students, safely returning to in-person learning is on everyone’s mind.
Several experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention held a virtual webinar Tuesday night, aimed at addressing parental concerns with sending their children back to campuses in person. The discussion was sponsored by the National Fatherhood Initiative, the U.S. Department of Education, Mocha Moms Inc., the CDC and the National Alliance of Black School Educators.
Here are four takeaways from the back-to-school discussion:
If eligible and able, everyone aged 12 and older should get fully vaccinated.
COVID-19 vaccines are readily available and play a large role in getting students back to in-person learning, said Catherine Rasberry, a health scientist in the CDC’s Adolescent and School Health division.
Parents should talk with their primary care physician about the vaccine to see if that’s something they want for their children, Rasberry said.
School districts are a good source for more information on finding vaccination sites or to simply talk through any vaccine questions with staff, she said.
Currently, children 12 and under are not yet eligible for the vaccine. That makes prevention efforts more necessary and important, Rasberry said.
Wear a mask if unvaccinated.
The CDC recommends anyone 2 and older to wear a mask if unvaccinated.
For people outdoors, masks are generally not required to be worn. However, if the person is unvaccinated and in a crowded setting, then masks should be worn, Rasberry said.
The CDC relaxed its COVID-19 guidelines in early July, saying that vaccinated students and teachers don’t need to wear masks in public school buildings. Texas schools cannot require masks after Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order banning districts from mandating the face coverings.
“It’s still important to keep in mind community context,” Rasberry said. “We do know that mask use is particularly important in areas where you see higher levels of transmission.”
How to choose between in-person and online learning.
Parents need to decide what’s best for their children when deciding between in person or online offerings, said Aaliyah Samuel, deputy assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Education’s state and local government division.
Samuel, who is a parent, said community context matters. School districts’ decisions vary, especially depending on their student population.
The mitigation strategies for 25 and 200 kids are vastly different. It’s important for parents to do research and see how the community around them is handling COVID-19 and go from there, she said.
“One of the things that we are doing as a department is encouraging the option of in-person learning but recognizing that every parent has to make that decision,” Samuel said.
In Texas, many districts are scaling back their virtual options.
What other precautions can be taken?
Along with wearing masks and getting vaccinated, there are other ways students and parents can prepare for in-person learning, Rasberry said.
Schools should have proper ventilation, contact tracing and screen testing, which were implemented last year and were proven to be beneficial, she said
And with vaccines readily available, unlike at the beginning of school last year, the combined efforts work hand-in-hand to prevent spreading the virus, Rasberry said.
“We do feel really comfortable that use of these layered strategies is going to protect unvaccinated individuals,” she said.