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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.
President Biden: Schools should be open in the fall
President Biden said during an interview on Friday that schools “should probably all be open” in the fall for in-person learning.
“Based on the science and the CDC, they should probably all be open,” he said on the “Today” show. “There’s not overwhelming evidence that there’s much of a transmission among these people, young people.” Still, Biden said his administration will follow recommendations from medical experts when it comes to reopening schools, some of which have done remote learning for a year and a half.
First lady Jill Biden, a teacher, expressed similar sentiments to “Today.” “We’re following the science and what the CDC says,” she said. “Each district is different, and I think we have to listen to the experts and science, and then the districts have to decide.”
Infectious disease experts agree that it’s time for schools to reopen. “I think they should be open now,” infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Yahoo Life. “The evidence shows school can be done very safely. Now, teachers have access to vaccines, so there really is no excuse.”
Dr. Richard Watkins, an infectious disease physician and a professor of internal medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University, agrees that schools can be open with the right precautions. “I don’t anticipate major differences from this fall to last fall that would require a different approach,” he tells Yahoo Life.
Teachers at Miami private school were told not to get vaccinated over menstrual cycle concerns
The co-founder of a Miami private school is urging teachers not to get vaccinated against COVID-19, warning that they will lose their jobs if they get the shot. Leila Centner of Centner Academy wrote in a letter to staff that she came to her decision “with a very heavy heart.”
Centner first noted that COVID-19 vaccines are “still in an experimental stage,” writing, “It will be years before we have reliable information regarding the short and long term effects of the COVID-19 vaccines.” She then said that “COVID-19 Vaccines are not a life saving medication. They have not been proven to prevent death from COVID or to prevent transmission of COVID.”
Centner said she believes “strongly in Health Freedom and ‘my body, my choice’” and, because of that, she didn’t prevent employees from choosing to get vaccinated before April 21. “However, reports have surfaced recently of non-vaccinated people being negatively impacted by interacting with people who have been vaccinated. There have been thousands of reports of menstrual cycles being impacted,” she wrote.
Centner said that she’s “compelled to take action” until more information is available. “Even among our own population, we have at least three women with menstrual cycles impacted after having spent time with a vaccinated person,” she wrote.
Centner then urged staff to “wait until the school year ends” to get vaccinated, noting that “you will not be able to return to school until clinical trials are complete (if a position is still available at that time).” For staff members who want to get the vaccine before the end of the school year, she wrote, “Please let us know right away as we cannot allow recently vaccinated people to be near our students until more information is known.” For people who have already been vaccinated, Centner is requesting that they report it and “maintain physical distance from the students.”
Centner did not respond to Yahoo Life’s request for comment.
Centner Academy lists its vaccination policy on the school’s website, writing that the school is “proud that our happiness school does not mandate vaccines of any kind.” The reason, the policy suggests, is theories that childhood vaccines increase rates of attention deficit disorder and learning disabilities, asthma, diabetes and autism. However, these theories have repeatedly been debunked through research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other major medical organizations.
“This is absurd,” Watkins says of the school’s new vaccination policy over menstrual cycle concerns. “It has no basis in reality.”
Women’s health expert Dr. Jennifer Wider agrees. “This is a perfect example of misinformation that has no scientific backing, being propagated among a school community,” she tells Yahoo Life. “The claims that the virus can ‘shed’ from vaccinated people to non-vaccinated people or negatively impact their health has been widely debunked by public health organizations including the CDC.”
Wider says that there is “no data” to back up this claim. “From a science angle, shedding cannot occur without a live vaccine,” she says. “The mRNA vaccines — Pfizer and Moderna — are not live vaccines, and they do not replicate. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine does not contain the coronavirus — they have an adenovirus that doesn’t replicate either — so it isn’t possible for the vaccine to shed, or get transmitted from one person to another.”
Alaska school district sees a cluster of COVID-19 cases linked to prom, wrestling tournament
Alaska’s Ketchikan High School closed on Wednesday and switched to remote learning after six students tested positive for COVID-19. Five of the students attended a wrestling tournament, and one went to a prom, Beth Lougee, superintendent of the Ketchikan Gateway Borough School District said in a letter to families.
All activities, practices and after-school events were canceled on Tuesday and Wednesday, although a teen vaccination clinic still took place as scheduled. According to the letter, nurses and school district staff reached out to people who were potentially exposed.
“We have known from the beginning that transmission is not really happening in classrooms — it’s extracurricular activities,” Adalja says. Most students “likely aren’t vaccinated,” he says, raising the risk that they’ll contract the virus after an exposure.
Dr. Daniel Ganjian, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Yahoo Life that it’s “not surprising” that outbreaks would happen around a close-contact sport and prom. “When we relax the rules, we have to understand that there will be some outbreaks,” he says. “Anytime there are big group gatherings like prom or trips, there is a risk.”
Ohio high school has a COVID-19 outbreak after a school band trip to Disney World
Ohio’s Normandy High School has started doing temperature and symptom checks of all students after 14 recently contracted COVID-19. At least four of those cases were linked to the school band’s annual trip to Disney World, Parma City School District spokeswoman Audrey Holtzman tells Yahoo Life. About 50 more students who participated in the trip are in quarantine because of the COVID-19 cases.
In addition to the screening, Holtzman says officials have “allocated additional cleaning staff to the school and will continue to ensure that students wear their masks, frequently sanitize their hands and practice social distancing to the extent possible.” They’re also working “closely” with their local health department.
In Ohio on Thursday, 1,786 new COVID-19 cases were reported, according to the state Department of Health. Parma is located in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, which reported 2,859 new COVID-19 cases in the past two weeks. Cuyahoga County is just one of 45 Ohio counties at level 3, out of 4 tiers in the state, indicating “very high exposure of spread” of COVID-19. Residents of level 3 counties should limit activities as much as possible, according to the Ohio Public Health Advisory System.
Adalja points out that there are “still a lot of COVID-19 cases in communities.” And, he says, “if you’re taking unvaccinated individuals on a trip, you’re going to see transmission occur in those situations — especially at an amusement park, where there will be multiple contacts.”
Ganjian agrees. “COVID-19 cases are decreasing, but that doesn’t mean the pandemic is over,” he says. “People still need to be as safe as possible.”
Colleges adapt outdoor mask guidance after new CDC recommendations
Colleges across the country are reacting after the CDC issued new mask guidance this week that relaxed recommendations for wearing masks outdoors.
Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., is keeping its mask mandate in place, despite the expiration of the state’s mask mandate earlier this month. “You just increase your chances of preventing transmission by following several different practices — it’s not just one,” Dartmouth’s COVID-19 task force co-chair Lisa Adams told The Dartmouth. “I would still be encouraging people to wear masks, especially when they’re indoors.” Adams said that school policies regarding masks may be more “conservative” than others because many students congregate together on campus.
The chancellor of the University of California, Santa Cruz, acknowledged the new guidelines in a letter to students and staff on Thursday, but said the school isn’t ready yet to change its policy. “It feels great to be moving in this direction, but note that the campus protocols have yet to change,” Cindy Larive wrote. “We are currently reviewing the CDC guidelines and will soon detail any planned changes.”
However, Rice University in Houston has rescinded its outdoor mask requirement and no longer requires weekly COVID-19 testing for fully vaccinated people on campus. Rice officials cited data that found 74 percent of the school’s “core population” has received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine. School officials still urged people to keep at least 3 feet distance outdoors and reiterated that the school’s mask policy for indoor settings remains in effect.
Adalja says that these changes are to be expected — and that more will likely be coming. “We will see many organizations modify their policies to keep in line with the CDC and state guidance on outdoor masking,” he says. “Many will also likely evolve as more people are vaccinated.”
Still, Watkins says, “there needs to be a continued emphasis on mask-wearing indoors, social distancing, and everyone needs to get vaccinated.”
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