Students are headed back to class amid the coronavirus pandemic, and to keep you posted on what’s unfolding throughout U.S. schools — K-12 as well as colleges — Yahoo Life is running a weekly wrap-up featuring news bites, interviews and updates on the ever-unfolding situation.
Children now make up a quarter of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S.
The American Academy of Pediatrics announced this week that children now make up more than one-fourth of new COVID-19 cases in the United States.
"About 252,000 cases were added the past week, the largest number of child cases in a week since the pandemic began," the AAP said in its weekly report on children and COVID-19 in America. "After declining in early summer, child cases have increased exponentially, with over 750,000 cases added between Aug. 5 and Sept. 2," the report continued. The report also noted that, since the pandemic began, children made up about 15 percent of COVID-19 cases. But, for the week ending Sept. 2 (the most recent week that data is available), children made up 251,781 COVID-19 cases, or 26.8 percent of all total new cases of the virus.
The data reflects news pouring in from across the country of a spike in COVID-19 cases as kids head back to school. In Missouri, thousands of children have been diagnosed with the virus in the first few weeks of school, according to a state COVID-19 dashboard. Texas public schools have also seen a dramatic increase in student cases, reporting 51,904 positive cases since Aug. 8. It's a similar story in many states and districts across the country.
There are "a number of reasons" for this, Dr. Lawrence Kleinman, professor and vice chair of pediatrics at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, tells Yahoo Life. "Children make up a greater proportion of the unvaccinated than they used to. Therefore a larger percent of symptomatic and serious infections will be in children."
The Delta variant is also more contagious, "meaning more children will be exposed and become infected," Kleinman says. "If you think about our mitigation efforts as, of course, less than perfect, then a more contagious virus is likely to cause infections in spite of them more often," he adds.
Many kids are also now back to school or just heading back to school "where they are in close contact with other kids," Dr. Richard Watkins, an infectious disease physician and professor of internal medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University, tells Yahoo Life. And in school systems where masking and other COVID-19 mitigation efforts aren't being utilized, kids will continue to get infected, he says.
"A lot of the data we're seeing is that, in the states where there are low immunization rates, there are large outbreaks," Dr. John Schreiber, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Connecticut Children's Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life. "COVID is spreading rapidly throughout these communities, and since children under 12 are unimmunized, they're making up a huge chunk of cases."
More than a dozen Miami-Dade school employees have died of COVID-19 since Aug. 16
Thirteen school employees in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools district in Florida have died of COVID-19 since Aug. 16, a teachers union representative confirmed to Yahoo Life. All were unvaccinated. Miami-Dade is the fourth largest school district in the U.S., serving 334,000 learners.
The union has tweeted out photos of its late staff while encouraging people in the community to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
TODAY If you want vaccine information and want to get vaccinated, come to:
Lillie C Evans K-8
1895 NW 75th St.
10 am - 5 pm
Healthcare workers will be on-site to help. https://t.co/qHtB3F6KzM
— United Teachers of Dade (@UTD_AFT1974) September 7, 2021
The school district has mandated mask usage for students and staff, defying orders from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
In Georgia, the Griffin-Spalding County school system has switched to remote learning after two school bus drivers and a bus monitor died from COVID-19. Experts say that it's likely more news like this will follow at other school districts, particularly in school staffers who are unvaccinated.
"The deaths in unvaccinated individuals who are eligible for vaccination is tragic," Kleinman says. "It is like watching the slow-motion crash of one airliner after another as thousands die unnecessarily. And before they are symptomatic, infected individuals are in the school, potentially spreading the virus to our children."
Kleinman says this only underscores the importance of vaccination, particularly in school workers. "Children under 12 still can't get vaccinated with an authorized vaccine. Vaccinations for those 5 and under are even further downstream," he says. "Those who are in our schools should have to mask and be vaccinated if we want parents to be able to be confident that their children are being protected to the extent possible."
Oregon's director of education is asking children not to play outside of school
During a news conference this week, Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill urged families to "limit" gatherings of kids outside of school to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and keep classrooms open.
“The threat to losing school time or moving back to online school is real,” Gill said. “But I believe that we can do better than this. Because of the health and safety measures we have in place, our schools can be safe spaces for students and staff. We have proven it in the past.”
Gill specifically requested that families of students, along with school staff, limit nonessential gatherings with people from other households. If they do gather, he encouraged doing so outdoors, while wearing masks and while social distancing.
Gill also encouraged schools to reduce extracurricular activities. “Please make a small personal sacrifice to do what you can to make the school year a success,” he said.
Kleinman says Gill's request makes sense. "When COVID is being transmitted in the community, breathing in the air that someone else has exhaled risks exposing you to coronavirus," he says. "This can occur when kids or adults are near one another outdoors too. Masking indoors and when near one another outdoors, limiting gatherings to outdoors, and similar restrictions help to reduce the chance of getting and spreading the infection."
Schreiber says he "tries to be a pragmatist" when it comes to kids gathering outside of school. "The reality is that kids need the social interaction, but it's important that it be safe," he says. "If they're outside and hanging out, I’m usually not very worried unless it's crowded. Indoors, they need to wear a mask."
Mom and lawmakers say they're proud of student who gave middle finger to anti-mask protesters
A 14-year-old at a Vermont high school has gone viral for giving anti-mask protesters outside her school the middle finger.
Fiona Downey was the subject of a photo that's been liked nearly 100,000 times on Twitter. Fiona's mom, Meghan Downey, told Vermont's Seven Days that she's proud of her daughter. "This has been particularly hard on adolescents. ... They're coming of age, they're old enough to see what's happening, but they don't have a lot of control," she said. "I think in that moment, my daughter did have control over what she could do with her hand, and she chose to use it.”
— philip lewis (@Phil_Lewis_) September 4, 2021
Fiona also defended her move. "It's just so hard to see [anti-mask protesters] not taking safety precautions seriously and trying to persuade kids to do the worst of the worst," she said.
Fiona has become an Internet celebrity, with even Vermont state Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale showing her support. "Yes Queen and Queen Mother! Stay compassionate and courageous, and run for office," she wrote on Twitter.
Schools are experiencing shortages of substitutes, bus drivers and nurses
Reports from across the country show that many school districts are facing shortages of key school employees during the pandemic.
One survey from the National Association for Pupil Transportation found that 51 percent of the 1,500 respondents said their school bus driver shortage is "severe" or "desperate." About two-thirds of respondents said that the school bus driver shortage in their area is getting "much worse" or "a little worse."
School districts across the country are also experiencing substitute teacher shortages, with some offering higher pay and additional perks for substitutes. There's even a school nurse shortage, with some schools in New Hampshire and the Houston area being without nurses on campus.
Watkins says it's difficult to know if and when these shortages will get better, given that the pandemic is ongoing, but he urges people to get vaccinated. "It is hard to predict when the pandemic will start to ease up," he says. "The Delta variant is very contagious, about 50 percent more so than the original strain, which is why everyone who works outside of the home should be vaccinated."
School board meetings across the country continue to be a chaotic
Reports of school board meetings descending into chaos continue to stream in from across the country.
In Tennessee, a teenager was mocked for saying that his grandmother died of COVID-19 because someone didn't wear a mask. "This time last year, my grandmother, who was a former teacher at the Rutherford County school system, died of COVID because someone wasn't wearing a mask," Grady Knox said at a Rutherford County Board of Education meeting earlier this week. Some people laughed at Knox, and one said, "Oh, come on, son. That's not true," as he spoke.
A Missouri school board meeting on masking in schools on Tuesday ended in a parking lot brawl outside the Pleasant Hill High School. Three people received tickets from the incident, but no one was arrested.
But not all school board meetings have been terrible. One prank at a Virginia school board meeting has gone viral on Twitter after board member Roscoe D. Cooper III read off a series of clearly fake names to see if they were in attendance.
Introducing the most chef kiss moment in School Board history. Bart Simpson would be so proud. pic.twitter.com/4ZHSPMJaKy
— chaps (@UncleChaps) August 30, 2021
"Phil McCracken,” Cooper says in the video, before reading off more fake names like Eileen Dover, Wayne Kuhr, Suk Mahdik, Ophelia McCaulk and Don Kedick.
Cooper later told Newsweek that he thought the joke was "harmless." “My sons laughed and shook their heads. They've clowned me in our group chat and said 'Pops, do better lol," he said. “Some people have had a great laugh, while others feel it was disrespectful to our work as a school division and school board.”
Kids at a school in North Carolina face trauma of COVID-19 and a school shooting
Children at North Carolina's Mount Tabor High School are trying to cope in the wake of a school shooting that left one teen dead.
Classes have been canceled until Tuesday at the school, where a student was shot by what is believed to be another student, according to NBC affiliate WXII 12.
Patricia Glenn, whose son is a student at Mount Tabor High School, told WFMY News 2 that her son is struggling with the double trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic and shooting. "It has been a lot. Because it's one of the first things he said Wednesday, 'Mom, we survived COVID. And to go into the second week of school and to go through this, how much more can we take?'" Glenn said.
Clinical psychologist John Mayer, author of Family Fit: Find Your Balance in Life, tells Yahoo Life that kids are already under a lot of stress right now. "Kids' lives are full of tension and turmoil prior to these events, and these events exponentially increase that load of stress already existent in a child's life," he says. "We forget that they carry that with them every day on top of these heinous events."
The danger with children facing so many traumas at once is that it can create a "breaking point" in their lives, Mayer says. "They are just learning how to cope with the anxieties in their world, and then these events get loaded on top of them … they can emotionally break and the result can be major mental illness," he says.
Mayer suggests that parents of children who have been through a trauma or double trauma do their best to relieve the stress in their lives. "Be forgiving and relax standards in the child's responsibilities and expectations," he says. "Provide extra emotional comfort, much hugging and physical love, emphasize their safety and protection and be 'fact mongers' for them." He also urges parents to "be understanding." And, if needed, consult a mental health professional for help.