COVID surge, confusion greets students, teachers as they return to class

By Sylvester Brown Jr.

Sandeep Rohatgi, MD, a Washington University pediatrician with more than 25 years experience, is urging parents to get their children vaccinated – especially with schools opening as Missouri experiences surging COVID-19 cases.

“Vaccinating our children who are 12 and older can keep them, our families and our friends safe. Reducing the number of COVID-19 cases can keep our economy and our country moving and get us all back to doing what we love,” he shared in a commentary to the St. Louis American.

“We are close to a point where we can start to think about going back to more freedoms and normal social interactions for everyone.”

It’s debatable how close anything resembling “normal” is, and that includes in the nation’s classrooms. Two months ago, optimism was high and there was a sense of achievement as the number of coronavirus cases seemed to be in decline.

In mid-May, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) announced that most fully vaccinated people didn’t have to wear masks indoors or outdoors. In early July it said that vaccinated teachers and students would not need to wear masks inside school buildings.

High hopes were dashed following reports of the Delta virus variant.  Nationwide, cases and hospitalizations started increasing. Health officials attributed the upticks in coronavirus cases in states like Missouri, to the pockets of the population with low vaccination rates.

“The constant barrage of new knowledge and recommendations was dizzying and overwhelming at times,” Rohatgi wrote.

What seemed like flip-flopping by the CDC was actually the organization responding to science and increased coronavirus infections, President Joe Biden explained in a recent press conference.

Students return to classes on August 23 and 24 in St. Louis and St. Louis county, respectively. The highly contagious Delta variant has ripped through conservative areas in Missouri, including Branson and Springfield, and is spreading into the city and county. The alarming trend has local health officials worried about the impact on school-aged children.

“When you look at what’s happening across the state; hospitals in Springfield are seeing more hospitalizations among youth infected with the virus,” said Dr. Frederick Echols, acting director for the St. Louis Department of Health.

“The CDC as well is showing there are increased transmissions among the younger populations. And, in the city of St. Louis, we’re seeing increased transmissions among youth.

“The evidence is definitely there, so we have to do our very best to not only create safe spaces for our youth but make sure we maintain that over a period of time. We have to be mindful of those who are under the age of 12 who are ineligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.”

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