Schools in crosshairs of US COVID-19 debate

American parents are split on whether mask mandates belong in schools, and universities grapple with mandating vaccines, as the nation returns to classrooms and campuses amid the fourth pandemic surge, this one fueled by the highly transmissible Delta (B1617.2) variant.

A new Gallup Poll shows 48% of K-12 parents think students should be required to wear masks at school, while 41% oppose student mask mandates. Similarly, 48% say teachers and staff should be required to wear masks, and 38% say they should not.

One area parents are not split on: a return to in-person learning. After 18 months of hybrid, virtual, and some in-person instruction, 77% of poll respondents said they expect their child will return to a pre-pandemic school schedule this year.

Yesterday the Florida Department of Education issued its first sanctions against school boards that have enacted mask mandates, defying a recent ruling from a state judge, Politico reports. The department is withholding salaries from school board members in Alachua and Broward counties.

Vaccine mandates for schools, campuses

In order to usher in a more normal school year, White House officials today urged school districts and universities to look at vaccination requirements.

"Vaccination requirements work; they drive up vaccination rates," said Jeff Zients, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator. He said states and communities that have mandated vaccines have seen a recent uptake in vaccinations.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID Data Tracker shows 52.4% of Americans are fully vaccinated, and 61.7% have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

Liberty University in Virginia shifted to online classes yesterday, only a week after the semester began, because of a spike in COVID-19 cases, according to the Washington Post. The school does not require students or staff to be vaccinated or wear masks.

In related news, Duke University enacted a vaccine mandate for staff and a mask requirement for the entire campus yesterday, after a COVID-19 outbreak infected nearly 350 students and 15 employees, CNBC reports.

Pediatric cases match winter surge

Today during the White House press briefing, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, said the 7-day average of new cases rose to 129,000 per day, including 11,500 hospital admissions per day.

The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that 204,000 COVID-19 cases in children were reported for the week ending August 26, marking the second week with child cases at the level of the winter surge. Children represent 22.4% of new COVID-19 cases, and since the pandemic began they represent 14.8% of US cases.

Yesterday, according to the New York Times tracker, the country recorded 158,946 cases, including 1,338 deaths. US pandemic totals have climbed to 39,134,705 cases and 639,490 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins online tracker.

Hot spots remain focused in the South. New data from the Department of Health and Human Services show Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, and Texas have less than 10% left of their intensive care unit capacity, CNN reports.

Outbreaks at camp, conference

Today the CDC published in Morbidity and Mortality and Weekly Report (MMWR) evidence that gatherings with adolescents and adults who were not required to be vaccinated or be subjected to testing led to large outbreaks, based on data from the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH).

During a 5-day overnight church camp for people aged 14 to18 years and a 2-day men's conference, a total of 122 primary cases of COVID-19 were confirmed, with 104 (85%) in people who were not fully vaccinated, and 18 (15%) in fully vaccinated persons. Eight of 38 (21%) close contacts of the 18 fully vaccinated persons subsequently became infected with SARS-CoV-2, the authors said, and no vaccinated people with COVID-19 were hospitalized.

"Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from vaccinated persons both to unvaccinated and vaccinated persons likely occurred. These breakthrough cases among vaccinated persons were identified among attendees of the camp and the conference and in persons exposed to the attendees," the authors said.

"Consistent with previous studies, much of the identified secondary transmission occurred within households, where most prolonged contact occurs."

Other US developments

  • Only 20% of Americans now say they are not very likely (6%) or not at all likely (14%) to get the COVID-19 vaccine, according to a new Axios-Ipsos poll. That's down from a combined 34% in March and 23% from 2 weeks ago.

  • Novavax said yesterday that, for participants in its recombinant vaccine trial, the CDC considers people fully vaccinated 2 weeks after they've received their second dose.

  • Also published in MMWR today is a study showing that COVID-19 patients have nearly 16 times the risk for myocarditis compared with patients without the virus.

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