What have we learned from the pandemic when it comes to schools?
We’ll find out when we see how school districts respond to new recommendations from the state Health and Education departments about the need to take new precautions to prevent and slow the spread of covid, flu and RSV.
Those recommendations include reinstating mask requirements, renewing the emphasis on frequent hand-washing and sneezing and coughing into sleeves, and keeping children home from school when they have symptoms of any of these illnesses.
Health and education officials also are encouraging parents to make sure they and their children are up to date on their vaccinations to help prevent or lessen the severity of illnesses.
We know no one wants to go back to the mandates, especially the mask mandate. Masks can be uncomfortable and hot, and it’s hard to communicate when you can’t see half of an individual’s face.
But there’s an urgency to the recommendations that should make school officials, parents and students take the current health recommendations seriously. Right now the nation is experiencing what’s been unofficially dubbed a “tripledemic,” or a peak in respiratory illnesses in children across the country that includes the flu, covid and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus).
The country is experiencing a record spike in RSV cases, and hospitalizations due to the flu are at their highest level in a decade. Variants of the original covid virus are also contributing to an increase in hospitalizations. All three viruses (COVID, flu, RSV) are peaking at the same time and earlier than usual.
That means the time for following the new recommendations vigilantly is right now.
Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the results of three studies that found that universal masking helped to stop the spread and minimized disruptions to school operations.
The studies also found that school districts without a universal masking policy in place were more likely to have covid outbreaks. Nationwide, counties without masking requirements saw the number of pediatric covid cases increase nearly twice as quickly.
Even if one can debate the degree of effectiveness of all of those measures, one can’t ignore the fact that doing nothing is the least effective way to prevent the spread of the viruses.
What will happen if the viruses are allowed to run rampant is that more kids will get sick and schools will be forced to shut down as teachers and students fall ill. That’s not just bad for those suffering from the various illnesses. Our children’s education will suffer as well. And haven’t we all been through enough already?
Local school officials need to take the lead and push for stricter measures to prevent the spread of illnesses. That might mean overcoming parental and student objections.
But if we learned anything from the pandemic, it’s that it’s dangerous to sit back, do nothing and ignore the health threat that’s right in front of us.
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I guess the Gazette editors have not seen the proof that masks don’t help in most cases and it is a detriment to children.
But what a difference a new COVID-19 variant can make. Kavanagh’s advice in 2020 had been tailored to the original variants of COVID-19, Alpha and Beta. When Delta appeared, Kavanagh altered his advice to fit the new reality. In a Q&A with ICT® in July 2021, Kavanagh said that “we need to be wearing respirators or N95s. Cloth masks, surgical masks with holes on the sides—those will not work.”
Kavanagh has been ahead of the curve when it comes to predicting what the unpredictable SARS-CoV-2 might hit us with next.