“I’m scared,” Watts told CNN at a vaccination event in DeKalb County, Georgia. “I’m not going to lie. I’m afraid. “
But that’s why Watts is getting the teens vaccinated, hoping it will keep them healthy and safe from Covid-19 when they return to their Atlanta-area schools.
“Sometimes you’re going to have to take risks, sometimes not. And right now, going back to school is a risk, ”Watts said. “But I also want them to have their education. “
Like much of the country, Georgia is seeing Covid-19 infections soar. The seven-day moving average of daily new cases on Friday was more than 3,000 reported cases per day for the first time since early March, according to a CNN analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University.
Georgia’s Department of Public Health said on Friday the case rate rose 204% in the previous 14-day period, while hospitalizations jumped by around 50% and deaths by around 18% during the same period.
And Covid-19 can and does affect children, even though they are less numerous than adults, Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told Fox News on Friday.
“More hospitalizations have occurred in demographic groups over 65, but we are seeing disease in some children who contract Covid, and it is disease at rates even higher than rates of influenza,” said she declared.
Schools are also a source of the spread of Covid-19, she said.
His agency released guidelines last month that emphasized face-to-face learning as a priority, and many districts will have returning students to schools. But how schools choose to handle Covid-19 will be left to local districts, Georgia State School Superintendent Richard Woods said last month.
In Cobb County, there will be social distancing in classrooms when possible, according to the district’s website, but masks are optional for students and staff. Masks are recommended but optional at schools in Fulton County, where students begin August 9.
Atlanta public schools will need masks for all students and teachers, along with other prevention strategies like physical distancing where possible, as will Dekalb County and Gwinnett County. The latter had previously said masks would be optional, but the district changed its position last week, citing CDC guidelines, the “increase in COVID-19 cases” in the county and the ineligibility of young students for a vaccine.
Some parents in Gwinnett County opposed the decision and protested outside the district office on Friday, CNN affiliate WSB-TV reported. One participant held a sign that read: “Masks hurt children more than Covid ever will,” a video showed.
Watts – whose granddaughter goes to school in Newton County, about 26 miles east of Atlanta, and whose son goes to school in DeKalb – doesn’t see a problem with students wearing masks.
“Everyone should be used to it by now,” she said, adding that her teenagers will be wearing face coverings.
“With the vaccines, I think it would help,” she says. “I pray that he will. ”
US Goes Back to School Amid Rising Cases …
Districts in other southern states are also starting school this week or facing an imminent return: Schools in the city of Birmingham, Alabama, also begin Monday. Schools in Jefferson County, which includes the city of Birmingham, begin August 10.
Schools in Broward County, Florida welcome students on August 18, while neighboring public schools in Miami-Dade County – the largest district in the state – will return on August 23.
The student feedback comes as CDC data shows the vast majority of counties in the south have “high” levels of community transmission of Covid-19. This means they have 100 or more cases per 100,000 people or a test positive rate of 10% or more.
But it’s not just the South: Students across the country are preparing for a new pandemic school year with their communities again under attack from the coronavirus.
As of Sunday, cases were on the rise in all states from the previous week, according to an analysis of Johns Hopkins data. Cases were increasing by more than 10% in 48 states, 34 of them had cases climbing by more than 50%. Nationally, the seven days the moving average of new cases was 78,600 reported cases per day on Saturday, up from around 12,700 on July 1.
… and a new debate on masks
The good news is that Covid-19 vaccines are effective in reducing the risk of serious illness and infection. But many students are too young to be vaccinated: only those 12 and older are eligible for a Covid-19 vaccine. And even among those who are eligible, federal data suggests millions of teens across the United States will return unvaccinated.
This makes masks an important tool for keeping people safe, and the CDC recommended last week that everyone wear a mask in schools, regardless of their immunization status.
“Over the summer we have had many summer school outbreaks that have occurred when the masks are not worn,” Walensky told Fox News on Friday. “Jurisdictions have had to close schools because there are so many clusters happening in the school system.
“So my main goal is to bring all of our kids back in person, safely, for full-time learning, and to do that and be able to keep the schools open to prevent these groups from happening at school. “
Yet among the 50 largest school districts in the country, only 23 needed masks last Thursday, including the country’s three. the largest, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Others included Clark County, Nevada; Fairfax County, Virginia; Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina; and the Hawaii Department of Education.
Masks were optional in 20 districts, most in Texas and Florida, including the Houston Independent School District and the Dallas Independent School District. Three others were undecided and four districts had not responded to CNN.
Among those in need of masks are Broward County Public Schools, while Miami-Dade County Public Schools – the nation’s fourth largest – have announced they will reconsider their optional mask policy.
However, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, issued an executive order on Friday ordering the state’s health and education departments to provide rules to prevent such warrants – despite skyrocketing cases – and to let parents make the decision regarding masks for their children.
He also said there would be no lockdown, school closures or restrictions in his state.
In Ohio, Governor Mike DeWine, another Republican, took a different approach. He told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday that the state is encouraging masks since many students will not be vaccinated but will leave the Covid-19 mitigation protocols to local schools.
“We had great success last winter, last school year. We saw hardly any spread in the classroom when all the children were wearing masks. We therefore recommend – a strong recommendation to our schools – that they do so, ”he said. “Now some will, some won’t. “
The risks are apparent, even with masks and other precautions: In Atlanta, at least nine students and five staff have tested positive at Drew Charter School in Atlanta just two days after the start of the school year , causing more than 100 students to be quarantined.
The school had tested around 1,900 students and staff before it reopened, school principal Peter McKnight told CNN on Saturday. It also imposed masks and social distancing, among other measures. The school felt prepared, he said.
Vaccinations have not been mandatory for staff, but that is also under review, McKnight said.
“It’s definitely not what we expected back to school,” McKnight said. “And I know that’s not what our families expected either. ”
CNN’s Natasha Chen, Kevin Conlon, Camille Furst, Maggie Fox and Elizabeth Stuart contributed to this report.