As of September 23, over 5.7 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Nearly 207,000 cases were added last week, the fifth consecutive week with over 200,000 child cases.
School in many nations around the world has been underway for more than a month and fears the Delta coronavirus variant would derail in-person learning have largely proven unfounded.
In a dozen countries with high vaccination rates — including Asia, Europe and the United States — case rates that surged in August have mostly fallen back, according to the World Health Organization.
The jury is out on whether this is due to seasonal factors, vaccinations rates, preventative measures, or the erroneous way in which all four variants tend to surge for 60 days and then abate. What is clear is that schools throughout the world are reflections of their communities.
Children Learn What They Live
In the United States, the number of children’s cases grows as a percentage of overall cases, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. “Schools simply reflect what’s going on in the surrounding community and you see less transmission in communities with mitigation measures in place,” said Dr. Sean O’Leary, a pediatrics professor at the University of Colorado.
In Kentucky, for instance, 45 of the state’s 171 school districts have closed down at least once since the academic year began in August, according to Joshua Shoulta, a spokesman for the Kentucky School Boards Association. Cases per 100,000 people in Kentucky are falling but still among the highest in the country where just over 50% of its population is fully vaccinated.
In Texas, school districts are struggling with less than half the substitute teachers they need. Brent Hawkins, superintendent of the Livingston Independent School District, said “the district was forced to close down for Labor Day week after more than 10% of the 600-member faculty got COVID-19.”
Hawkins says Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s decision to bar school districts from requiring masks is driving the surge. “We recorded more positive cases among students and teachers in the first few weeks of school than during all of last year,” Livingston said. “Nearly 300 children, have been infected as of mid-September.”
Meanwhile, California — which has a significantly greater population than Kentucky and Texas — has reported zero school closures in their first weeks. With masks, ventilation and high vaccination rates in place, the San Francisco and Los Angeles school districts reported few cases in their first few weeks.
The New World
“It is entirely probable that COVID-19 will never disappear,” according to the CDC, “and will likely digress into a more seasonal disease that can be mitigated with vaccines and preventative measures.” In COVID-19 recovered individuals, a sharp decline in humoral immunity has been observed after 6 – 8 months of symptom onset, and breakthroughs and re-infections remind us that COVID-19 must for now be methodically respected and managed.
It’s the third consecutive time in which children have been called upon to return to their classrooms and confront COVID-19. While we’ve not as yet eradicated the virus in their behalves, they have and continue to do something rather remarkable. As they’ve shown across the 50 states, their natural curiosity and resilience are their innate life preservers. Not merely for keeping them afloat upon adversity, but for enabling them to forever search, discover create or cure a new world.