The experts have outlined the safest ways to keep schools open and free from outbreaks, CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen said Monday.
If students are going to be in a room together before they can all be vaccinated, it is crucial that there is proper testing, ventilation and masking — a measure that has become surprisingly contentious, she said.
Yet Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations have surged in recent weeks, particularly among unvaccinated people in the South. And although health experts have stressed that masking is a way to control the spread, some governors have sought to ban mask mandates in schools.
Currently, vaccines are only authorized for people 12-years-old and older, meaning younger children do not have access to the full protection of vaccines. That is where masking becomes crucial.
“It shouldn’t be for months. It shouldn’t be forever, but right now when people are coming back in, masking is a reasonable public health step,” former Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Brett Giroir said Monday. “I support it and encourage parents to encourage their children to do it.”
“Talking about flying blind, relative to children — we need better data, and that’s got to be the basis for action,” he added.
And because testing has gone down, the US may not be fully informed on the extent of the infection among the entire population, he said. Giroir estimated that the US could soon reach a true number of around 500,000 cases per day.
“That means 50 to 100 thousand Americans will get long Covid — meaning for months they’ll be in pain, they’ll be fatigued, they’ll have brain fog, because their memory centers in their brain shrink. We know that,” Giroir said.
Hospitals feeling the weight of the increase
Forty states are seeing a surge in the average number of new cases compared to the week before, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. And the impact can be seen in strained healthcare systems.
Cases in Mississippi have continued to rise, with the latest data from the state department of health showing 7,839 new cases and 52 new deaths in the three days to August 15.
In response to the record number of Covid-19 hospitalizations, the University of Mississippi Medical Center said a second field hospital is being constructed in one of its parking garages.
The field hospital will have critical care capacity and care for up to 32 patients at a time, the hospital said in a statement.
In Texas, following a review of the rise in fatalities, the Department of State Health Services submitted a request for five mortuary trailers as “a normal part of preparedness to have these available to support local jurisdictions in case they need them,” according to DSHS Press Officer Douglas Loveday.
Texas is one of the states at odds over mask mandates. Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order banning school districts from requiring masks, which has caused backlash from educators and local leaders.
“The governor is looking at polls, he’s no longer even talking to his own medical experts,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins told CNN’s Erin Burnett. “He’s looking at polls of what Republican primary voters want to hear and working from there.”
Texas along with Florida, another state embroiled in mask mandate controversy, lead the nation in pediatric hospitalizations.
The latest HHS data published Monday shows that 239 children in Texas are currently hospitalized with Covid-19. Texas has surpassed Florida, which has 170 children with coronavirus in hospital care.
How quickly does immunity wane?
Meanwhile, Pfizer and BioNTech said Monday they have submitted initial data to the US Food and Drug Administration to support the use of a booster dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.
The dose elicited a significantly higher antibody response against the initial strain of coronavirus and the Delta and Beta variants, compared to what was seen among people who got two doses, they said. The booster dose seemed to be equally protective against the Delta and Beta variants as against the original coronavirus.
The data is good news, Wen said, but not altogether surprising.
“That’s actually, though, not answering the key question we have remaining right now,” Wen said. “The key question is, how quickly does immunity wane after the first two doses?”
As of now, the Biden administration’s plan, which is still being developed, would involve administering third shots beginning in mid- to late September, one source told CNN, pending authorization from the FDA.
Given that health care workers and nursing home patients were first to receive their shots, the administration currently expects they’ll be first to receive boosters as well.
Last week, the FDA authorized third doses for some people who are immunocompromised and the CDC almost immediately recommended giving those doses.
CNN’s Lauren Mascarenhas, Virginia Langmaid, Kaitlan Collins, Adrienne Broaddus, Deanna Hackney, Raja Razek and Rosa Flores contributed to this report.