It could happen again.
“One thing we saw earlier in the month of August is that there were many schools that opened but didn’t have mask mandates in place and were not using protective mitigation protocols, and we saw a number of outbreaks that happened in those situations where the school opened and then closed like a week later because there were so many teachers and students that got infected,” Tan said.
“It is hoped that when schools open after Labor Day, that these people will be smarter and they’ll have mask mandates in place and use protective mitigation protocols in order to prevent the potential to have future outbreaks occur in the school setting,” she said. “We know that there are going to be cases that occur, but there are methods to decrease the number of potential cases that might occur.”
“It is about the decisions the schools are making, and whether or not they’re going to be able to do any physical or social distancing, or whether or not they have masks in place — but schools are a microcosm of the broader community too,” Ng said. “What’s your vaccination rate in the eligible population? What is the general practice of broader mitigation strategies in the community? All of that is interrelated. The work of opening schools doesn’t occur in a silo.”
That’s because, Ng said, as soon as a student or staff member leaves the school, there is always the risk they could catch coronavirus in the community and then carry the virus back to school with them.
High vaccination rates within a community can offer some protection for children.
“But also, in order to protect those who can’t get vaccinated, there are certain simple things you have to do, you mentioned one of them, universal masking in the school,” Fauci told Sciutto. “And even though there are some government leaders locally who are trying to push back on that, we’ve got to get the school system masked in addition to surrounding the children with vaccinated people. That’s the solution.”
The study found that, in August, hospitalizations among children and adolescents were four times higher in states with low levels of vaccination compared with states with high levels of vaccination.
Arshad added that these differences between states are why overall local rates of vaccination, local Covid-19 case numbers and mitigation efforts within schools themselves will play a “crucial role” in the success of schools opening this week — and staying open — without a significant increase in coronavirus infections among students and school staff.
“I think that many of the schools that did open earlier without mitigation measures have realized that without universal masking they are risking large outbreaks,” Arshad said.
Arshad said that her own children recently started classes at a public school in Illinois, but it gives her comfort that the school has several mitigation measures in place.