Dr. Fauci: Send kids to school in masks, vaccinated or not

Parents and their children line up to enter Lake City Elementary in Morrow on the first day of school, Monday, August 2, 2021. Clayton County school district is requiring masks for staff and students this school year. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

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Parents and their children line up to enter Lake City Elementary in Morrow on the first day of school, Monday, August 2, 2021. Clayton County school district is requiring masks for staff and students this school year. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Health panel discusses rising COVID-19 cases, vaccinations for adolescents

With the number of COVID-19 cases rising and children returning to school, Dr. Anthony Fauci had a simple message Tuesday.

“Whether they are vaccinated or not, they need to wear a mask,” he said, during a panel discussion streamed online by a coalition of health-related organizations, the COVID-19 Vaccine Education and Equity Project.

Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, echoed the recommendation by the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The federal agency advised last month that everyone in schools — even the vaccinated — should mask up. The guidelines are not mandates and schools across the country are making their own decisions on whether to require masks.

In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp has left such decisions to schools throughout the pandemic, now stretching into its 18th month as a fourth wave of infections is hitting Georgia hospitals, with a sharp spike in cases.

Metro Atlanta districts, many reopening this week, have been split on the CDC guidance.

Some districts, including Atlanta, Clayton, DeKalb and Gwinnett, are requiring masks for staff and students. Fulton is requiring masks at schools in areas with high infection rates. Masks are optional in Cherokee, Cobb and Forsyth. Parents in some districts have protested the mandates and a Republican state lawmaker wants Kemp to ban districts from imposing them.

ExploreKemp is called on to ban school mask mandates

Fauci and his fellow panelists said that the pandemic is not over, and that the version of the disease now driven by the delta variant is more dangerous, including for children.

Dr. Lee Savio Beers, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said over 4.2 million children in the United States have contracted COVID-19 so far, with over 60,000 hospitalized and at least 350 deaths.

The disease has proven far more dangerous and deadly for grownups, but children still bear a risk.

“The virus continues to infect children and some children do become quite ill,” she said. The number of pediatric infections rose to 72,000 in the past week, nearly double the week before, she added.

The speakers, including Dr. Peter Marks, of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, urged parents to vaccinate their children, saying the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, authorized by the FDA for children as young as 12, has proven to be safe and effective.

In Georgia, fewer than 1 in 5 kids have been vaccinated and less than half of eligible Georgians are fully vaccinated.

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Physical Education Coach Monica Sicka greets a few masked students as they enter Pearson Middle School during the first day of school in Marietta, Monday, August 2, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Physical Education Coach Monica Sicka greets a few masked students as they enter Pearson Middle School during the first day of school in Marietta, Monday, August 2, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

caption arrowCaption
Physical Education Coach Monica Sicka greets a few masked students as they enter Pearson Middle School during the first day of school in Marietta, Monday, August 2, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

As cases rise, some school leaders are beginning to shift their position.

On Tuesday, Forsyth, which previously had said there would be no contact tracing, updated its back-to-school message to say that parents of students who test positive for the coronavirus must contact their school nurse and that the parents of nearby students will be notified. In elementary schools, where children are too young to be vaccinated, there will be numerous “mitigation strategies” in place until Labor Day, including a limit on student movement through buildings and no incentives or awards for attendance. Masks will still be optional.

Douglas County announced on Tuesday that masks will be mandatory following a school board decision Monday. It came days after Dr. Janet Memark, the director of the Cobb and Douglas Public Health district, warned about the rising risk.

“My best advice is that you go with the CDC recommendations,” she said in a video published on the Cobb County Government YouTube channel last week.

Memark followed up Friday on the Douglas County channel, saying 60% of the county is unvaccinated and hospitalizations are rising as kids are going “back in circulation.”

Maybe people can go without masks in a few weeks if infection rates fall, she said. “But in the meantime, to add fuel onto this fire right now is a very dangerous situation.”

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