Austin, TX: Can kids be safe as they prepare to go back to school? In a word, the answer is no. There's the Delta variant to worry about and rumblings of the next variant after that to be equally as difficult.
Parents are extra nervous about whether kids can be safe.
“We have locally elected officials for a reason — they understand our community’s values, know the resources available and health risks to our children,” said Lana Hansen, mother of two AISD students under 12. “We are gathered today to ask Austin ISD to take local action to protect our children by putting in place illness screening, social distancing, mask mandate, and additional safety measures.”
Many parents attended a virtual Austin Well Town Hall last week to see how the ISD will handle healthy as Austin kids go back to school.
Most of the questions I heard were about safety:
Q: Is it safe for unvaccinated children to go to school?
Dr. Anna Vu-Wallace, Internal Medicine/Hospitalist: “As a physician, I can say definitely that our children are at risk. With delta, all bets are off. We don’t know what this will do in our pediatric population. We’re seeing it in real life right now, as we’re seeing higher and higher child hospitalization and higher infection rates for children than we saw previously. So, yes. I remain very concerned.”
Q: What are the most common reasons you’ve heard from people about why they’re not vaccinated?
Dr. Cowper: “There’re several reasons. The first one is probably the most popular: people thought the vaccines were too quickly developed and so people mistrust that. The second reason is just vaccine hesitancy. That’s been around since the 1800s, when vaccines were first introduced into our society. That’s a tough one, because you can convince somebody that the vaccines are safe, even though they were developed very quickly, but in my opinion, mRNA vaccines, they’ve been doing research on them for the last two decades. And then, there’s the propaganda — which is what to me is the most frustrating part of this. It’s not based on science, it’s not based on valid data. It’s just based on people’s opinions.”
Children under 12 are not vaccine eligible. That means middle school kids in 6th grade are interspersing with older seventh and eight graders who are at least vaccine eligible. The Austin ISD has held vaccine clinics and encouraged anyone who is eligible to receive the vaccination.
Additionally, the AISD covers the expense for anyone in grades K-6 to opt-in for virtual learning even though the state does not cover any virtual learning expenses this calendar year.
Governor Greg Abbott prohibits Texas schools from making mask mandates.
Last year our students didn't do well on the STAAR test, and evidence shows they learn better in person, but the question remains: Can they be safe?
Governor Abbott is under fire for mandating no masks and personal responsibility, even for kids in school. The ISD says it will not monitor or encourage students to wear masks. It will be a matter of personal choice, even in mask optional rooms. Parents are concerned and want mask mandates.
Mary Helen McNally, mother to an immunocompromised child, explains:
“My family carries a genetic blood disorder that can make COVID-19 extra dangerous. My kid has it. I have it. Mom has it. Sisters have it…. I’ve been looking forward to sending the kids back to school and keeping my job. If the mask mandate doesn’t happen, that might not happen either. All of us are gonna be out of work because we’re going to be forced to choose between our child’s safety and our family’s security.”
MARY HELEN MCNALLY, AUSTIN ISD PARENT
UT Austin will require negative testing for students to begin studies for the semester. For elementary, and high school students, the requirements are unclear, but school starts soon. Parents want to know how their kids will be safe. And kids need peace of mind.
It's decision time for this developing story in Austin.
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