Consider that in Arkansas, a state with a very low vaccination rate and now a soaring COVID infection rate, there are almost as many Arkansans infected with COVID-19 who are 17 or younger as people 65 and older, according to the chancellor of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
“These variants are smarter. They’re dangerous,” said Dr. Michelle Nichols, associate dean of family medicine at Morehouse School of Medicine, at a panel Thursday on COVID prevention on the campus. “They’re more infectious.”
“We are in a race against the variants,” said Dr. Lilly Immergluck, a pediatrician and Morehouse professor of immunology, on the same panel. “What we know about coronaviruses in general is that they do mutate. It’s almost like the survival of the fittest. The virus adapts to the environment, to who remains vulnerable.”
That is becoming young people.
Adults must get vaccinated to protect children “so we don’t see the unfortunate stories that we have right now of children under 6 years old dying,” said Nichols. “That is very unfortunate for something that is completely preventable.”
Today, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visited Kelley Lake Elementary School in DeKalb and spoke with parents who said the district’s safety policies, including mandatory masks, allayed their concerns about sending their children back to classrooms amid COVID-19.
Saying she felt “like the school had her back,” Kelley Lake parent Carla Moore explained, “You do have to sit back and think there is a pandemic. At home, as a parent, I remind my children you have to keep your masks on. I already packed their book bags with hand sanitizer and a little bitty can of Lysol. I know the school will reiterate keep your masks on.”
Asked about whether masks should be mandated, Cardona said the decision belongs with health officials, school leaders and communities but encouraged adherence to CDC recommendations, which call for masks indoors for students and staff who are not fully vaccinated.
But some parents in Georgia are skeptical of CDC guidance. So are some superintendents.
In response several days ago to parent email urging him to heed the CDC and require masks, Fulton Superintendent Mike Looney wrote, “While I appreciate the CDC’s recommendations, the truth is their credibility has been tainted during this past year and I no longer feel comfortable following all of their guidance, but now factor in our local data and experiences in the decision-making process.”
At school board meetings in suburban counties earlier this summer, parents compared mandatory masks to child abuse and argued masks are more dangerous for children than COVID.
The acquiescence of school leaders to these viewpoints explains why Georgia and some other states are still being held hostage to this unrelenting virus. Many Georgia districts outside of metro Atlanta never mandated masks and will continue not to do so this year.
Atlanta, Clayton, Decatur, Rockdale, Clarke and the DeKalb systems will require masks for students and staff, but they will be optional in classrooms in Cherokee, Cobb, Forsyth, Paulding, Marietta, Gwinnett and Fulton.
At the Kelley Lake Elementary event where everyone, including Secretary Cardona, Sen. Jon Ossoff and school board members, was masked, the education secretary reassured the crowd, “Masks will eventually come off. I am not saying they will come off this week, but we will evolve out of this.”
That prompted DeKalb Board of Education Chair Vickie B. Turner to tell Cardona, “So many parents are divided here on whether to mask or not to mask. Our superintendent is trying to keep us all safe and is making some hard calls. I wish you could come to our board meetings.”