Despite the rise in Delta variant cases, increased hospitalizations and reinstated mask mandates, many schools are set to reopen as early as next week.
Vaccinating your children is the most important way to protect them while at school.
Concerned parents – especially those with children too young to be vaccinated for COVID-19 – have been asking questions about how to keep their children safe as schools reopen. UC Davis chief of pediatric infectious diseases Dean Blumberg provides guidance on the nine things parents should know.
1. With the onset of the Delta variant, is it safe for children to go back to school if they are vaccinated? How about if they are unvaccinated?
Vaccination is the best way to protect against infection, so it's safest for all children 12 years of age and older to be vaccinated for COVID-19. Unvaccinated children may also safely return to school, but that makes other protective measures such as masking and social distancing even more important for them.
2. When will children under 12 have access to the vaccine? Should they be vaccinated when eligible?
Studies are ongoing in younger children. The vaccine manufacturers expect these studies to be done and presented to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) applying for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) at the end of this year. Children 11 and younger will likely be eligible for vaccination in December or January.
3. Should my child wear a mask, both inside and outside class? (On the playground? In the halls? What about during lunch?) Should the staff? Should other students, vaccinated or not?
For children who are not yet eligible for the vaccine, masking is critical, both inside and outside the classroom.
Yes, masking is the second most important form of protection after vaccination. This is most important when children are not able to social distance from others, such as indoors and sometimes outdoors, if they are in a crowd.
I'm hoping that most schools will be able to have children social distance during lunch, because of course, they can't eat with their masks on! Some schools may be able to do this by staggering lunch times so the entire school doesn't eat at the same time.
Because the Delta variant is so infectious, everyone in school should mask. This includes students, teachers and staff, vaccinated or not.
4. Is social distancing still recommended amongst unvaccinated children?
Yes, social distancing is most important while unmasked. However, distancing in classrooms just three feet (instead of the usual six feet) has been found to be safe with little transmission, provided students are masked.
5. How important is ventilation in classrooms?
Opening windows (if feasible, due to weather) and increasing the ventilation rate can help dilute any virus and decrease risk of infection.
6. Are kids at greater risk for contracting the Delta variant or having a breakthrough infection?
The Delta variant is twice as infectious as previous strains, so there is an increased risk of infection for everyone, including children. Breakthrough infections may occur in those who are vaccinated, but these infections are typically much less severe. They are usually an upper respiratory infection like a cold or the flu. Infections that occur in those who are unvaccinated are far more severe.
7. What symptoms should I watch for? Are they different from symptoms from earlier COVID-19 strains?
The symptoms of the Delta variant are very similar to those that resulted from previous strains. Mostly cough, shortness of breath, fever and sometimes loss of taste and smell. However, when you or your child are infected, there is a higher risk of progression to more serious disease that may require hospitalization.
8. Now that the Delta variant is here, should we anticipate more variants?
I think the virus will continue to evolve; continue to mutate. The more the virus multiplies, the more chances there are for the emergence of new variants.
9. What other precautions should I take to keep my kids safe from the Delta variant?
Make sure your child's school has good policies in place to limit infection. Vaccinating all those who are eligible is most important. Universal masking is next most important. There should also be policies in place to exclude students and staff that are symptomatic and at increased risk for transmitting COVID.