Low vaccination rates in some states are ‘absolutely bringing exposure into the classroom,’ doctor says

·Senior Editor
·3 min read

The school year is starting amid a surge in COVID-19 cases, particularly among children in states with the lowest vaccination rates, as the highly contagious Delta variant circulates in the U.S.

“I have to believe it’s not coincidental that these high rates of exposure and COVID cases are linked to the lower vaccination rates in these communities,” Dr. Susannah Hills, pediatric airway surgeon and assistant professor of EMT at Columbia University Medical Center, said on Yahoo Finance Live (video above).

The top 10 states currently leading the country in cases per 100,000 people all have vaccination rates below the national average of 54%.

“These states are a little bit behind in getting everybody who is eligible vaccinated,” Hills said. “That is absolutely bringing exposure into the classroom.”

'Not allowing school boards to mask appropriately'

More children are being hospitalized in 2021 than in 2020.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there have been nearly half a million cases among children over the past two weeks as kids go back to school.

Part of the issue is that children under the age of 12 are not yet eligible for any COVID vaccines, which places the onus on states and schools to enact policies and guidelines to mitigate the spread of the virus.

“I think New York City has a really good plan so far for keeping kids safe,” Hills said. “They’re going to be really aggressive about masking and making sure everyone in these buildings are masked. They’re also setting up hundreds of vaccination sites across the city for faculty, staff, and students to get vaccinated.”

New York City has required all teachers and faculty to be vaccinated by Sept. 27. According to Hills, 74% of teachers have already gotten their vaccines.

“We’re really working on surrounding all of our unvaccinated children with vaccinated adults in schools,” she said, adding that schools “have been getting HEPA filters set up in every classroom. They’ve got plans for requiring vaccinations for certain high-risk activities like after-school sports. Students who are eligible who are participating in after-school sports will be needing to get vaccinated. So I think it’s really a great plan they have moving forward. And hopefully, this is going to help keep our kids in school.”

People protest against the school mask mandate, enacted to help slow the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), outside a Hillsborough County School Board meeting in Tampa, Florida, U.S. May 18, 2021.  REUTERS/Octavio Jones
People protest against the school mask mandate, enacted to help slow the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), outside a Hillsborough County School Board meeting in Tampa, Florida, U.S. May 18, 2021. REUTERS/Octavio Jones

In other states like Texas and Florida, by contrast, the attitude towards masking and vaccines is dramatically different. The governors for those states, Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis, have both signed bills banning schools from mandating wearing masks.

“States like Texas and Florida — there are others as well — have been struggling with allowing school boards to implement mask mandates when it’s necessary when cases are high,” Hills said. “Those states that are not allowing school boards to mask appropriately are also seeing closures.”

Schools in Texas have already had to halt in-person classes due to positive COVID cases, which impacted 42,000 students across at least 45 districts that were affected within the first weeks of the school year, according to the Texas Tribune. And in Florida, more than 8,000 students and teachers from just one district were forced to quarantine as a result of positive cases.

“Tens of thousands of kids in Florida, for example, have already been in quarantine for that reason, too,” Hills said. “I think it’s a combination of factors, but I have to believe that vaccination rates are probably the top one.”

Adriana Belmonte is a reporter and editor covering politics and health care policy for Yahoo Finance. You can follow her on Twitter @adrianambells and reach her at adriana@yahoofinance.com.

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