WASHINGTON, Aug.2 (Reuters) – In April, nearly a year after being fired from her hospitality business due to the pandemic, Sara Gard was still barely finding her feet with a new full-time job in financial services with which she juggled managing the distance education of her daughter.
So when her six-year-old daughter’s school just north of Atlanta, Georgia that month gave parents the option of choosing in-person classes for their children when the new school year began. in August, Gard signed up and felt good about his decision.
Until, that is, a recent increase in cases caused by the highly transmissible Delta variant of COVID-19. Masks in her school district are highly recommended but are not enforced and her daughter is too young to be vaccinated. Gard now has sleepless nights as she reconsiders.
If she decides to put her child back to the virtual school – which is always offered – something will have to give her. Her husband’s job is at the hospital and the Gard employer, with whom she started last November, wants her to spend more days in the office. “It’s not sustainable for me or my husband,” said Gard, 40. “Stress is killing me. “
Expectations of an accelerating economic recovery in the United States largely hinge on more workers being employed once in-person schooling resumes this fall. But the Delta variant could defeat those expectations if parents, especially women, stay or are forced to stay on the sidelines.
“You can imagine school districts deciding to wait a month or two for the Delta wave to calm down. I’m not saying it will happen, but it’s easy to imagine. It’s also easy to imagine that some people might say I’m just going to wait a few months before I get back to work, ”Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Wednesday. “If schools don’t open, babysitters have to stay home, and if people don’t return to the workforce, job growth won’t be so strong. “
HERE WE GO AGAIN?
About 7 million fewer people are employed in the United States today than before the pandemic, according to Department of Labor surveys of businesses and households, despite record vacancies.
The recovery in employment has been particularly uneven for women, who suffered a greater share of job losses at the start of the pandemic. Many had returned to the labor market in the summer, but in August and September of last year, more than a million women aged 20 and over left the labor market, as most schools shut down. reopened to online education only and children were parked at home.
This year, women re-entered the workforce in greater numbers than men, reflecting the increase in face-to-face instruction as the school year progressed and the reopening of a number of schools. industries where they are over-represented.
Today, renewed uncertainty around school attendance is likely to dampen this momentum.
As school districts prepare for the reopening, protections vary widely. California is one of eight states that require all or nearly all children to wear masks in schools, as do many major cities, including Boston and Chicago, according to data compiled by the Burbio tracking website. In Texas and seven other states accounting for 25% of school-aged children, schools are not allowed to require masks. Read more
About 40% of 16-17 year olds and 28% of 12-15 year olds are vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children between the ages of 5 and 11 should not be eligible until late fall at the earliest, and those under five sometime after. Read more
“It’s absolutely a concern as we move into this upcoming school year that we have this more contagious variant, and this is a group of individuals who will not yet be eligible for vaccination,” said Dr. Sean O’Leary, pediatric infectious disease specialist at the University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus and vice chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Infectious Disease Committee.
While evidence from last year suggested schools could safely reopen without a spike in cases, the Delta variant appears to spread more easily among children.
“This is going to be very disruptive,” said Daniel Domenech, who heads the American Association of School Administrators.
Take the City of San Bernardino Unified School District, whose 47,000 students are part of the 10% of America’s school-age population returning to class this week. California needs masks and the district is implementing extra precautions like new air filter systems.
If a student contracts COVID-19, that student will self-isolate at home; if three pupils of the same class leave, the whole class will be sent home for 10 days; and if 5% of the school gets it, the campus will close, according to the school’s back-to-campus roadmap.
“I have a lot of confidence in what we have put in place,” said Rachel Monarrez, assistant district superintendent. Still, she said of the Delta surge, “I’m watching her… and while I look at the data, I’ll make recommendations to the superintendent if we need to take a stronger approach.” “
‘THE TIME IS TURNING’
The sudden increase in unpredictability over the coming months is likely already causing some women to reconsider their work plans, according to Claudia Sahm, senior researcher at the Jain Family Institute and former Federal Reserve economist.
“People are eager to see where this ends up to make a decision. I have more and more friends who tell me ‘I’m going to wait, stay part-time’ because their children are under 12, ”Sahm said. noted.
“Time is running out here. We are too close to the start of the school year, we are too close to what is often a big job search season. It is truly disconcerting to see this turn of events, yet it is not surprising. If the virus is not under control, it is under control. “
Gabriela Villagomez-Morales, 37, is a single mother with four children aged 18, 17, 10 and 8 in Tacoma, Washington. She lost her job at a daycare when it closed due to the pandemic and struggled to find a new job while helping her children at school remotely. She recently found another job at a home daycare, but is also concerned about the predictability of the school opening in the coming months.
“If something happened, what would my solutions be? It’s really difficult for me, ”she said.
Reporting by Lindsay Dunsmuir and Ann Saphir; Editing by Dan Burns and Andrea Ricci
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