Keeping Students Healthy In Our Third COVID School Year

I am a parent of two young children who are students in the Williamsport Area School District, neither of whom are old enough to be fully vaccinated before school starts. I am also a teacher, looking forward to a return to in-person learning this month.

We all recognize the value of in-person learning, but I want our children and teachers to have a safe learning environment. I am deeply concerned about the decision to drop masking requirements in WASD, Loyalsock and other area schools. This does not follow the recommendations from the scientific and medical communities, namely the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (last updated 7/9/21), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) (last updated 7/18/21). We have learned a great deal about how to guard against the spread of COVID-19 in our schools over the course of the previous 17 months. With the more infectious Delta variant of COVID, the health and safety of our children, teachers, and the rest of the community will be at risk without face coverings and vaccinating as many eligible children as possible.

Preventing serious illness and death from COVID in our community relies on three measures, like a 3-legged stool that needs balance.

  • First, vaccines remain our best hope to keep our kids healthy, yet only 40 percent of children 12-15, and half of 16 to 17-year-olds have at least one shot, leaving too few with protection from COVID. Pop-up vaccination clinics offered by community health providers for children and their families will help stop the spread of COVID.
  • Second, 14 percent of our population is too young to get vaccinated, so we need to limit the spread of infections through masking, hand washing, and maintaining physical distance when possible.
  • And third, testing and contact tracing people with COVID symptoms are still vital to keep kids from spreading COVID at school.

These three measures will not only protect our kids from infection, but also their family members and friends in our community who live with compromised immune systems.

While we saw COVID cases in Williamsport decrease to very low levels this summer, case numbers are now climbing. We are back in the orange high risk category. Over 80 percent of the new infections in this region are the Delta variant (CDC.) It is reportedly 2-3 times more infectious than earlier variants, and studies suggest that previous infection does not confer a high degree of immunity. While vaccination is our best means of preventing this new variant, masking remains our best way of preventing children under 12 from getting infected.

Furthermore, students with developmental or medical conditions that prevent them from wearing masks must rely on others around them to wear masks and get vaccinated (when possible.)

Our children and our educators deserve a safe school environment. We cannot ask them to choose between their health and safety and their fundamental right to an education in school. We must do everything we can to keep students safe and healthy! These safety measures will keep schools open, keep kids from having to isolate or quarantine at home, and most importantly keep them from contracting or spreading this potentially deadly virus to family and friends.

Finally, it is essential for schools to host pop-up clinics with community health providers so that more eligible students and family members are protected by the vaccine. Fact sheets about the vaccine can help educate families about the benefits of the shot. It is also essential that our public schools follow the scientific community’s recommendation for universal face coverings in K-12 settings. Masks are critical for protecting those who are most vulnerable, especially children under 12 who cannot be vaccinated yet. However, masks work best when it is not an individual choice, but a collective effort that we make.

By choosing whether to wear a mask or not we may think we are exercising our liberty. But true liberty means respecting the liberty of others and their right to health by taking these simple prevention measures. Let’s do everything we can to maintain the rights of our students to a healthy environment for learning in our schools.

Guidance for COVID Prevention in K-12 Schools. Center for Disease Control. (updated 7/9/21)

COVID Guidance for Safe Schools. American Academy of Pediatrics. (updated 7/18/21)

Jonathan Scholnick, PhD. is a parent, college professor, and a member of Let’s end COVID
Published: 8/14/21

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