Parents, schools weigh risk of another Thanksgiving during COVID-19

Kai Berelc, 8, covers his eyes and sits on his dad Michael Berelc’s lap as he gets his first COVID-19 vaccine shot at DeKalb Pediatric Center in Decatur on Nov. 4, 2021. Vaccination among children has been slow, but vaccines are giving parents and schools confidence ahead of the Thanksgiving break. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Caption
Kai Berelc, 8, covers his eyes and sits on his dad Michael Berelc’s lap as he gets his first COVID-19 vaccine shot at DeKalb Pediatric Center in Decatur on Nov. 4, 2021. Vaccination among children has been slow, but vaccines are giving parents and schools confidence ahead of the Thanksgiving break. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Parents of young children will embark on the Thanksgiving holiday as COVID-19 infection counts creep upward in some schools.

Some epidemiologists think Georgia’s infection rate has plateaued at an uncomfortably high level. Even so, some parents seem a little more comfortable about life with the pandemic than they were last year.

“I think we will have an uptick this winter in COVID due to Thanksgiving and Christmas and it getting colder,” said Dr. Hugo Scornik, a pediatrician in Conyers, “but it’s not predicted to be as severe as last winter because of the COVID vaccine.”

He noted that vaccines are available to anyone age 5 and older.

Eight big metro Atlanta school districts queried about their post-holiday protocols indicated no big changes. Some will continue mask mandates while others, such as Gwinnett County, the state’s largest district, set rules for relaxing them.

Early in November, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Pfizer-BioNTech injections for children as young as 5. Some pediatricians saw a rush to get vaccines, but many didn’t, said Scornik, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics chapter in Georgia.

“In Conyers where I am, I would say the uptake is kind of slow,” he said. “We are not getting swarmed by calls.”

Since the start of the school year, 14 metro-Atlanta school districts have recorded more than 39,000 COVID-19 cases, according to data posted to their websites. Nearly, 6,800 were recorded by these districts in the last full week of August. That was during an outbreak that has since subsided. In the second week of November about 600 cases were recorded, with some districts logging slight increases over the previous week.

Holiday plans

Some parents are eyeing the holidays with extreme caution.

Nearly 2,000 Atlanta students want to shift online as soon as they can at semester’s end, about a three-fold increase over the number that selected the remote option this fall.

Shienke Kimbro understands the concern. She has five children, none of them vaccinated. She pulled them from school in Liberty County when case counts soared in August and will do the same after Thanksgiving, if necessary. During the break, she will take them to a condo in Florida.

“We come back the day before Thanksgiving, but we’re going to do Thanksgiving at home instead of getting in large groups with everybody else,” she said.

ExploreCan Georgia avert another holiday COVID surge?

Others are relaxing a little.

Dr. Lori Randall retains her careful routines, wearing a mask in most public settings. The Fulton County mom and her husband have both gotten booster doses.

They have two boys, 6 and 4. The older one is vaccinated and she suspects the younger one is, too. (He is participating in a trial of the Moderna vaccine and had reactions that suggest he didn’t get a placebo.)

Unlike last year, they’re going to have Thanksgiving meals indoors with extended family — two of them. They calculate the risk is worth it given that everyone, except maybe their 4-year-old, is vaccinated.

“The numbers are ticking up and I am expecting we’re going to have another surge this winter and that stinks,” Randall said, “but we’re kind of like, well, if we’re vaccinated now and the numbers are not that bad right at this moment, let’s just go ahead and enjoy Thanksgiving.”

In Cherokee County, Tiffany Hoffer is the only one in her home who has been vaccinated. She, her husband and their two teens have had COVID-19. Only their kindergartner has been spared. Last year, they avoided Thanksgiving with extended family. This year feels different.

“Everyone has either had COVID or is vaccinated at this point,” she said, “so we do feel comfortable getting around and spending time with family.”

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