Schools and why we should have mandates
Texas, Florida, other states - I'm looking at you
I’m going to be a little blunt. There is nothing more frustrating right now for me than states like Texas making whacky rules/mandates/recommendations to not mask kids and teachers. In reality (as in the reality on the ground of positivity rates, cases, hospitalizations exploding), it makes ZERO sense to not have mandates. Perhaps as a sense of “comfort” and “preference” and politics, not masking kids and teachers is a political part of this pandemic that we’ve seen for the past year. But, the science (aka. the reality on the ground) does not support what states like Texas are doing in any way. And, it is frustrating because viruses don’t care about politics or preferences. It’s just a virus that cares about cells and infection. So, what do we as parents and teachers do? And, why is this more important now than ever?
This is the most critical time in this pandemic - this is not hyperbole for me to say this either. Delta has changed the gameplan and defense strategies, sadly. Why?
Delta has up to 1000 times higher viral load than other variants.
Delta is up to 200% MORE transmissible with a R(0) of 6-9 - this means than one kid/teacher/bus driver/person can infect 6-9ish people.
Vaccines (mRNA and the J&J/AZ vaccines) still work against Delta in preventing severe disease requiring hospitalization or resulting in death. But, vaccinated individuals can still spread.
Many states (like Texas and the South) have LOW vaccination rates that do not have enough of a wall of protection for our communities. In other words, the defense of having low vaccination rates is penetrable.
Why am I worried about school? Especially in places (like Texas and the rest of the south) with LOW vaccination rates.
Kids are increasingly becoming infected with Delta - which makes sense given the high R(0). If you think of one kid being sick in an unmasked school, this means that 6-9 classmates/teachers/cafeteria workers are at high risk of getting COVID-19. Mix that one kid with other kids that are sick - and, that’s what we mean by the exponential spread. Or a teacher who is sick can spread to 6-9 children, co-workers, etc. In other words, an explosion of cases in unmasked classrooms can happen very quickly.
Hospitals are filling up again. In Houston (one of the largest health facilities in the country), one of the hospitals issued this statement: "Currently, children under 12 years old are ineligible for the COVID-19 vaccines and, as such, are vulnerable and unprotected. Young people are being hospitalized for COVID-19 in growing numbers, staying longer and are sicker than we have seen at any other time during the pandemic. At one point in recent weeks, pediatric COVID-19 patients made up nearly 20 percent of the total inpatient COVID-19 volume specifically at our Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center campus (not across our entire system). Today, that number is 6 percent of the overall COVID-19 volume at our TMC campus. However, when combined with the larger-than-usual number of RSV cases we are currently seeing, our pediatric ICU is continually operating at capacity. We are actively exploring creative solutions to quickly and safely expand our pediatric bed capacity, but the situation is serious. Please do your part in protecting our children so they do not require a hospital visit. Wash your hands, mask up and, most importantly, get vaccinated."
A quick reminder that vaccines protect really well against hospitalizations and deaths. The vast majority (>95%) of those hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated.
Following up on point #2, overwhelmed hospitals not only affect people/children with COVID-19 but people/children needing care for anything. This is still about protecting our healthcare systems. And, a huge shout-out to you champion-medical workers in these ERs, ICUs, and hospitals during this wave of the pandemic. Here’s a chart of where hospitalizations are increasing the most - juxtapose those numbers (look at the 14-day change) with case counts and vaccination rates (also in the chart).
Positivity rates are increasing dramatically in states with low vaccination. Again, let’s look at Texas (which is similar to lots of other states). One month ago, the positivity rate was 9%. 6 weeks ago the positivity rate was 5%. Today it is 19%. The positivity rate tripled in 6 weeks. This is Delta, web-peeps.
I just can’t emphasize enough how transmissible/contagious Delta is and what that is doing to our hospitals, schools, and communities. So, what do we do?
Advocate for school districts to follow the science for our kids and teachers. Two of Texas biggest districts have already done that in requiring masks for teachers and students (Dallas and Austin). Well done, Dallas and Austin! But, we need that for the rest of the districts across the US.
There are SO many petitions around about this issue. I would encourage you to find one for your local school district and strongly advocate for mask mandates. I am hoping the districts in Waco, Texas will do that - the positivity rates and cases have exploded in that area of Texas and kids go back to school soon.
Texans, go here to “make a fuss”.
Join up with other parent groups in your local area to advocate for science (not preference or comfort). Our communities once again depend on this and one another. And, our children deserve better. People who are immunocompromised deserve better. This is collective solidarity once again that I’ve written about for months now. This is love thy neighbor with Delta.
If you’re not vaccinated, now is the time for you and your 12+ year old children to go get your vaccines. Remember you need both the mRNA shots to be protected and 1 J&J shot. Remember you also need the FULL timeline to be protected (2 weeks post J&J shot or 2 weeks post 2nd mRNA shot). The vaccines still work are our best way of protecting us, our children, and communities.
Now, let’s talk details:
KN95 Masks - For children, you can get KN95s specifically for petite faces. LOTS of you have asked for recommendations on where to buy those, but I don’t feel qualified to sift through the companies to know which ones to recommend. Ask around on the comment threads to see what other families have done.
Other Masks - The most important thing about a mask for your kiddos is the fit. I know KN95s are pricey! So, you can get a good layered cloth mask, surgical mask that are looped behind the ears for a good fit, or both. This really depends on your kid. Whatever they will wear is the mask to use. And, all mommas said ‘Amen’. =) Just make sure it is a tight fit. Double-masking is a good strategy too if you are a high-risk teacher, have a high-risk child, or have a child going to a school that will not require masks. Again, it just needs a good fit with multiple layers.
Be sure to have a system of how to wash your cloth masks. I know some families have two bins when they walk in the door labeled “Clean” and “Dirty” for the masks to go in. If your kids are like mine, they run in from school and backpacks, shoes, lunchboxes, books, socks (do your kids want to take off socks when they get home too?), anything-else-they-collected-at-school gets thrown from the door to the kitchen in a little trail as they go for a snack. =) So, having an easy system for the masks prior to the school year and role-playing that with your kids might make it less stressful.
If you’re a teacher, you might consider getting yourself a good air purifier in your room, adding a face shield over your mask, and making sure you have a good fitting mask too.
I also wanted to say a special note for parents of high-risk kids, high-risk essential workers, high-risk teachers/bus drivers/cafeteria workers/custodians, etc as we enter this new school year. Many of you are having to make impossibly tough decisions on what to do - and, many of you already made those tough decisions last year. Yuk, friends. I’m so sorry we are here again. There are lots of us who got our vaccines to help build that wall of protection around you and your sweet kiddos. We will continue to do so by wearing our masks and doing what we can to petition schools to do the right thing: Mandating masks in schools for teachers and students. For every state and district. It is the right individual and collective thing to do for our kids, families, hospital systems (which are already overwhelmed even before school starts), and communities.
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Back to school photo: Deleece Cook, Unsplash