More states lift school mask mandates, LA may expand remote learning for students who won’t get COVID vaccine

A student arrives wearing a mask at Kozminski Community Academy in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood on February 7. (Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Students are back in class amid the coronavirus pandemic, and to keep you up to date on what’s happening in US schools – K-12 as well as colleges – Yahoo Life hosts a weekly roundup with news, interviews and updates on the ever-unfolding situation.

A growing number of states are lifting mask mandates in schools

This week has seen a shift among a number of blue-leaning states, the majority of which are led by Democratic governors, to lift mask mandates in schools. The following have announced plans to lift statewide school mask mandates:

The news coincides with a rapid decline in COVID-19 cases across the country. While COVID-19 cases are still high, with 202,001 new cases reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday, they are significantly lower than they were at the peak of the wave of Omicron infections. when cases reached as much as 391,096 a day.

It’s important to note, however, that the CDC still recommends universal masking in schools as a way to prevent transmission of COVID-19.

While masking has been recommended in schools for more than a year, experts say it may be time to end terms. “As children are spared the serious consequences of the disease and there is wide availability of vaccines for almost all school-aged children, I do not believe that a perpetual state of masking is necessary,” said the Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, infectious disease expert. senior researcher at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Yahoo Life. “Schools need to develop exit ramps immediately.”

Dr. Thomas Russo, professor and chief of infectious diseases at the University at Buffalo in New York, tells Yahoo Life that this should encourage parents to get their children vaccinated. “Although cases are decreasing everywhere, most localities are still at a high level of transmission,” he says. “So if your child is not vaccinated, there remains an increased risk of infection. Therefore, it is prudent to wear a mask until your area reaches a lower level of transmission.”

If your child is fully immunized and received a booster (if eligible), Russo says the “personal risk is low” of contracting serious illness from COVID-19 if children go to school without a mask. However, he recommends that parents consider the rest of their household. “If someone in the household is unvaccinated, then continued mask use is a good strategy, as our vaccines are not perfect at protecting against Omicron infection, and even the fully vaccinated child could bring the virus into your home,” he says.

Colorado researchers team up with college kids to test new masks

Researchers from the Colorado School of Public Health have recruited a team of local college students to help test face masks that can detect asymptomatic cases of COVID-19. The masks, which were developed by the University of Leicester in the UK, contain a special 3D-printed band that can trap exhaled microbes for a period of at least 30 minutes while the mask is worn.

About a third of students and staff at Aurora Science & Tech Middle School are participating in the study, wearing the masks from morning until noon, May Chu, a professor of epidemiology at the Colorado School of Public Health who works on the study, told Yahoo Life. In exchange, the school is getting help with its COVID-19 testing program, for which it previously had “no bandwidth”.

“Because we were already there to conduct mask research, we combined research and surveillance testing,” Chu says.

She adds that there has been a “positive reception” from students, families and staff. “Our enrollment has steadily increased each week, and students have told us they are happy to contribute to the science of learning about the causes of asymptomatic/pre-symptomatic transmission of SARS-CoV-2,” she says. . The process of obtaining samples is quick – just five minutes – and includes students taking a nasal swab during lunch, in addition to wearing their masks. The swabs are sent to a testing lab and the results come back in four hours, allowing the school to make quick decisions. “Parents tell us they are relieved to know the situation at school,” Chu said.

Chu says the research team is “making progress” in understanding the difference between the level of infection in the nose and whether the air you exhale can infect others.

Russo calls masks an “interesting concept,” noting that they “can have value during times when masks are used in schools.” He points out, however, that the use of masks is being phased out in schools across the country as Omicron cases decline. “I anticipate that we may soon be able to get rid of masks in schools, so testing at home or elsewhere would be a more pragmatic way of monitoring when schools are in mask-free mode,” he says.

Still, Adalja says that “improving diagnostic and sensing technology is an important task, even if these types of devices should not be deployed universally.” She argues that this will foster other innovations that could eventually be applied to other infections, such as tuberculosis.

LA schools considering remote learning options for students who refuse COVID-19 vaccine

Students ages 12 and older attending school in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the second-largest district in the United States, must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by the start of the school year. fall school year 2022. But a school board meeting on Tuesday revealed that tens of thousands of students were yet to be vaccinated, prompting officials to consider launching up to six new online schools next year to help teach these students.

The district currently has an independent study program called City of Angels that has over 16,000 students enrolled this year (it typically serves about 1,800). “The enrollment of the more than 16,000 students at City of Angels was a necessity for the 2021-2022 school year, as City of Angels is the only school in Los Angeles Unified currently set up to offer long-term independent study “, reads a report of the school board published. this week.

He goes on to suggest an alternative. “For the 2022-2023 school year and beyond, Los Angeles Unified has the opportunity to blaze a new trail for TK-12 online learning,” the report continues. “By creating up to six new online schools, students whose parents choose the independent study option will have a variety of quality online school options, with the ability to select an option that matches their interests.”

Under the proposed plan, each online school would have a principal, three vice-principals, two academic advisors, and dedicated staff members. Each online school would cost the district about $2.7 million a year and serve about 2,500 students.

When reached for comment, a LAUSD spokesperson referred Yahoo Life to the meeting and noted that there had been “vigorous conversation” around the idea of ​​establishing distance schools.

While the concept is still debated, experts say it sounds extreme for students. “The pandemic has taught us the importance of in-person learning — both for their education, but especially for their social development and mental health,” Russo says. “Remote learning should be an option of last resort. Having the unvaccinated wear a mask at school would seem to be a better option, especially when the disease burden in the community is low.”

New Hampshire could make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for in-person learning

New Hampshire lawmakers are considering adding the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of mandatory vaccinations for public school students in the state. The bill, called HB1633, is currently being debated and would require COVID-19 vaccines for K-12 and college students in the state.

The bill would only apply to age groups that have received full Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval, which currently are those 16 and older.

Right now, California, the District of ColombiaLouisiana and New York City have some form of COVID-19 vaccine requirements for college students.

Adalja expects more states to be added to the list as FDA approval for younger age groups is granted. “I think many school districts will add COVID vaccination to their school entry requirements,” he says. “It will be treated more like measles and other vaccines.”

Russo agrees. “I hope that the COVID vaccine will become mandatory to go to school, because it is probably the only way to achieve the high level of vaccination necessary to ensure the optimal safety of our students, staff and teachers. “, he says. “Furthermore, a high level of vaccination in children will reduce transmission and benefit the community as a whole, especially those who are most vulnerable.”

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