By Sahar Chmais
Online school has proven to be burdensome for many children with failing rates that nearly doubled in Hays CISD and Dripping Springs ISD during the pandemic. Once again, the difficulty was proven when STAAR test grades dramatically dropped between 2019 and 2021 across the state.
Based on the impact of online learning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) set out new guidelines for the upcoming school year. Teachers and children who are fully vaccinated do not need to wear masks in school, according to the new guidelines.
The CDC is highly urging schools to fully return to in-person learning, even if schools cannot curb the spread of the virus. But the CDC wants districts to be meticulous in monitoring the spread of COVID-19 within schools. Some things districts can monitor include local health data to determine when to tighten or relax prevention methods, such as mask-wearing and social distancing.
Although this is the CDC’s suggestion, before the end of the school year, Texas Governor Greg Abbott released an ordinance that said schools cannot enforce mask-wearing and the decision is up to individuals.
The updated guidelines will also add information to promote vaccination against COVID-19. In Hays County, there are 4,085 children between the ages of 12 and 15 vaccinated with one dose, and 2,937 fully vaccinated kids in that age range. Children under 12 are not yet authorized to receive the vaccine.
Pfizer and BioNTech began vaccine trials in children six months old to 11 years old in March 2021. Vaccines have proven effective against the Delta variant, but infection and spread among the vaccinated population is still possible.
Schools are also encouraged to space students at least three feet apart, but if maintaining this distance prevents schools from fully reopening, other strategies can be used. These include indoor masking, increased COVID-19 testing and enhanced ventilation. Unvaccinated individuals are highly encouraged to wear masks, according to the new guidance.
Although the CDC has cited studies showing transmissions in schools can be lower or equal to community spread when preventions are put in place, the new Delta variant is more highly transmissible than previous COVID-19 variants.
The Delta variant is the predominant strain that is circulating in the U.S.
Hays County has not yet released information on Delta within the county, as these tests are administered by the state and they have yet to receive that information.