Children in the United States, more vulnerable than ever to covid-19 and in the crossfire of a political war due to the use of masks, return to class in an eternal rite transformed into a moment of fear due to the pandemic that interrupted their childhood.
For a long time this fall was to be a milestone on the road back to normalcy, as schools filled with students, many of them returning for the first time after 17 months of online classes, an eternity for a mind. developing youth.
But the surge in the delta variant came at the wrong time, plunging the United States back into its public health nightmare when it seemed, even a month ago, that the crisis was subsiding.
The resurgence of the pandemic has led to extreme stress and concern among parents, who are desperate to send their children back to school, but who conflict with the natural instinct to keep them safe, and who fear further disruption in the form of quarantines and periods of isolation, just as employers have started sending workers back to their offices.
The new semester will be a tough new test for President Joe Biden at a time when he faces the most difficult moment of his presidency so far due to the disastrous exit of the United States from Afghanistan.
The new school year is also exposing new political fault lines on basic public health precautions in states and local jurisdictions that reflect deep ideological divisions in the country.
The national scene could not be more serious when classes begin.
In Louisiana, where covid is rampant, authorities suspended a school board meeting amid a protest over the use of masks. In Cobb County, Georgia, there is quite a stir as some parents have withdrawn their children from classes because schools are ignoring basic sanitation protocols.
In Texas and Florida, there are revolts against Republican governors who blocked mask-wearing mandates, in an apparent maneuver for voters in the GOP presidential primary in the event that former President Donald Trump, who inspired much of the skepticism of basic public health measures, don’t run again in 2024.
A Northern California elementary school teacher was attacked by a parent in a discussion about face masks. School board meetings erupted into chaos in Tennessee and Florida, poisoned by misinformation and political bravado.
The political spectacles come at a time when children’s hospitalizations are hitting record highs, which is of particular concern to parents of children under the age of 12, who are yet to be vaccinated. The lengthy approval process for pediatric vaccines has frustrated many parents, but authorities say they are going as fast as they can.
“This is no longer an adult disease,” Dr. Sara Cross, a member of the Republican Governor of Tennessee’s covid-19 task force, told Citizen Free Press’s Ana Cabrera.
The most painful thing is that the recent increase in cases, and a variant that has sent more children to hospitals than in the first waves of infection, represents in many cases a neglect of the duty of the older generations to protect the young.
The refusal of many Americans to get vaccinated fueled the takeover of the delta variant that will make going back to school such an uncertain process for many children and parents.
The start of classes is also raising questions about whether federal, state and local governments have taken sufficient precautions to make schools safe and supportive learning environments. Biden said Wednesday that in the next few days he will address the nation to discuss back to school.
His massive covid-19 relief plan included billions of dollars for schools, including preparing buildings so children and teachers can return safely. Overall, the president has a strong track record on the pandemic, especially when compared to the negligence of his predecessor.
But the return to the classroom comes at a time when Biden is experiencing political vulnerability and doubts about his judgment over Afghanistan.
He is therefore under great pressure to demonstrate his leadership and control by the time children return to school, an issue that could dampen his popularity just as much as the messy end of the war in Afghanistan. This is especially the case in suburban districts that could be the key to the midterm elections in November 2022.
To some extent, the president has limited influence, given the primacy of states in setting educational policy. But he has the power of the presidency to set the tone for the states.
The start of the new semester is also causing political upheaval outside of Washington.
The battle between science and politics, rooted in America’s ideological divisions, which hampered the effort to defeat the pandemic, is creating an ugly spectacle of politicians using children to score political points.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Texas Governor Greg Abbott, both Republicans, have garnered headlines in conservative media after banning school districts from imposing mask mandates, one of the few forms of keep children safe.
Both argue that it is parents and not school officials who must decide what is best for children, causing them to resist restrictions on individual freedoms even during the worst health crisis in 100 years.
DeSantis, for example, on Thursday criticized Hillsborough County, Florida, for requiring the use of masks at indoor school sporting events, incorrectly suggesting that athletes were included and at risk of not being able to breathe.
“Of all the things that you could take care of, are you choosing to do this?” DeSantis said, referring to politicians who focus on wearing masks in schools, a question he might well ask about his own partisanship on the issue. After all, the Florida Governor is doing more to protect parental rights than to keep children from getting sick.
At least five Florida public school districts have defied a DeSantis ordinance banning mask mandates, in a showdown that could have real consequences for his reelection race next year, which he must win to remain considered a front-runner for the Republican Party presidential nomination in 2024 if Trump does not run.
Public health experts argue that while politicians like DeSantis say masks are uncomfortable for children, they are indispensable to stem the spread of COVID-19 and keep schools open in the coming months.
“This debate on the use of masks in schools is over,” said Dr. Ali Khan, dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and a former senior official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. US Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on “Citizen Free Press Newsroom”.
“From the data coming from the field, we have learned in the last two weeks that school districts that came back without widespread use of masks are closing. We have numerous school districts that have closed schools.”
In one example of this disruption that new research shows can cause learning difficulties and mental health problems among children, the Mississippi Board of Education voted Thursday to allow a return to hybrid learning.
Between August 9 and August 13, more than 20,000 students in the state had to be quarantined due to possible exposures to COVID-19, according to the state Department of Health. During the same period, 4,521 students and 948 employees tested positive for COVID-19 in 803 schools in the state.
One of the Democratic governors swimming upstream in a largely conservative state is Andy Beshear of Kentucky, where there is a record 18 children in pediatric intensive care units with COVID-19.
“Sending unmasked and unvaccinated children into a stuffy classroom is like having the biggest ‘chicken pox party in the world’, except instead of chickenpox it is the third leading cause of death last year,” Beshear told Kate Citizen Free Press’s Bolduan this Thursday.
A circle of safety
The key to protecting children, especially those in elementary and middle school who cannot yet be vaccinated, is to keep them as safe as possible in a circle of adults who have been vaccinated. As a result, some states increasingly seek to provide that indirect level of protection to children.
Oregon, for example, on Thursday introduced a requirement for K-12 educators, staff and assistants to be fully vaccinated by October 18 or six weeks after full approval of vaccines by the Food and Drug Administration. (FDA), whichever occurs later.
“Our children have to be in classrooms full time, five days a week, and we have to do everything we can to make it happen,” said Democratic Gov. Kate Brown.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the US government’s top infectious disease specialist, told Citizen Free Press’s Jake Tapper on “The Lead” on Thursday that regulators were working to authorize a vaccine for children as soon as it is safe. But he warned that, until then, the use of masks and vaccines for adults were the best line of protection.
“You have to create a safe environment, and there are several ways to do it,” Fauci said. “One of the safest ways is to surround children with vaccinated people if they meet the requirements to be vaccinated.”
However, more advice from federal officials is not what Republican governors want to hear. After Biden warned on Wednesday that the government would use covid relief funds to pay school officials whose salaries will be withheld because they defy state bans on mask mandates, several delved into their positions.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, one of several Republican leaders from various states who received letters from the Department of Education warning that her positions contradicted public health guidelines, tried to link Biden’s support to mask requirements in schools with its other political challenges.
“We have a crisis on the border, a disaster in Afghanistan, and inflation is skyrocketing. President Biden is failing on every one of these issues, and yet now he’s launching an attack on governors like me for trusting our people to decide what to do. it’s better for them,” Reynolds said in a statement Thursday.
But there is growing evidence that, with the virus out of control in many states and millions of children once again at risk of wasting precious time in class, most Americans agree to basic precautions in schools.
In a Quinnipiac survey released earlier this month, 55% of Americans said that the CDC’s recommendation that all public school students, staff, and teachers wear masks to school, regardless of state vaccination, it was a good idea.
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