Roundup: U.S. back-to-school week features rising COVID-19 cases, more tests among children

NEW YORK, September 9:  As more campuses reopened during the second week of September in the United States, pediatric cases of COVID-19 have seen upticks again, though mask mandates are observed in some schools and regular tests are carried out in areas of coronavirus exposure.

Weekly pediatric coronavirus cases surpassed 250,000 for the first time since the start of the pandemic, according to the latest data published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The data shows that more than a quarter of weekly reported coronavirus cases in the United States were among children for the week ending Sept. 2. While most pediatric cases are not severe, nearly 2,400 children were hospitalized nationwide with COVID-19 in the seven days ending Tuesday, more than ever before.

“COVID-19 cases in children dipped early in the summer but quickly rose again, both with the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant and because coronavirus vaccines are not authorized for children under 12,” reported The Washington Post on Wednesday.

As the pandemic extends into a third academic year, administrators, lawmakers and health officials are again balancing health risks with best practices for learning. Safety protocols vary across states and school districts. Public health experts are concerned that a rollback of precautions and the heightened infectiousness of the Delta variant could lead to greater transmission risks in schools, reported The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) on Wednesday.

Hundreds of students and staff across the United States have already tested positive, pushing thousands into quarantine and prompting schools to temporarily close or revert to virtual learning.

Meanwhile, some schools are trying a new plan to keep students safely in the classroom. Rather than quarantining children who have an in-school contact with a positive case, they are testing students in large numbers, said the report.

The method keeps children in school after exposure to a classmate or teacher who tested positive for COVID-19 if they test negative at least every other day. Known as “test-to-stay,” the approach is a higher transmission risk than keeping exposed students at home, but some public health experts and educators say the trade-off is worth it to avoid missed days in class.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky has said that bigger COVID-19 outbreaks and quarantines are occurring primarily in schools that haven’t followed the agency’s recommendations, including promoting vaccines for those who are eligible, universal masking, distancing, improved ventilation and screening testing.

Without such mitigation measures, more students and staff will have to sit out of school because they are sick or quarantined, Jason Newland, a pediatrician and infectious disease expert at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, was quoted by WSJ as saying. “You’ve now really hurt the kids in the end.”

U.S. parents are eager for kids to return to school, but they’re concerned their children will get seriously ill if they catch COVID-19. A strong majority support requiring masks and teacher vaccinations amid a surge in pediatric cases, reported USA Today on Wednesday.

A majority of parents in a new USA TODAY/Ipsos poll agree that masks should be required. Research suggests masking at schools can limit COVID-19 transmission, yet it’s emerged as one of the most contentious issues in education, causing chaos at school board meetings and garnering lawsuits, according to the report.

Roughly two in three Americans, parents and non-parents alike, are in favor of schools or states implementing mask mandates for teachers and students. There lies the strongest support among parents of color. Forty-three percent of poll participants said student mask-wearing should be at the discretion of individual parents, according to the poll.

Respondents were similarly in favor of requiring teachers and other school employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 — 65 percent of all participants and 56 percent of parents said they supported such mandates.

In the meantime, parents are more skeptical of online learning than they were last school year. Across the country, more than 1,000 schools, having just reopened, halted in-person learning and went back online because of COVID-19 outbreaks.

Among parents of schoolchildren, seven in 10 supported returning to full-time instruction in classrooms. Support was the strongest among white and Asian parents and weakest among Black and Hispanic parents, communities that have been hit harder by COVID-19, according to the poll.

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