Delta variant fuels anxiety and mask debates as students return to school

Written By: Lauren Hard ©️ 2021 The New York Times The New York Times
New York, United States Published: Aug 07, 2021, 11:38 PM(IST)

Maynard Jackson High students board a school bus on their first day back to school in Atlanta, Aug. 5, 2021. Photograph:( The New York Times )

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Several Republican-controlled states, like Florida, Arizona, and Arkansas, have prohibited districts from imposing mask rules, calling them an infringement on parental rights and personal freedom

Students across the United States have begun to head back to school, starting in Atlanta this week. But parents’ hopes for a return to normal instruction in the fall have begun to evaporate as the highly contagious delta variant drives up cases and hospitalizations.

With policymakers from local school boards to the White House scrambling to balance public health and children’s learning needs, a patchwork of coronavirus rules is emerging nationwide, provoking debates, division and anxieties among families, teachers and education officials.

Some large school districts like Los Angeles are requiring all staff members to get tested for the virus each week. States led by Democrats, including New Jersey, California and Illinois, have imposed statewide mask mandates in schools.

Also read | Delta variant fuels concerns for children's health in Florida

Meanwhile, states with Republican-controlled governments, such as Florida, Arizona and Arkansas, have forbidden districts to impose mask rules, casting mandates as an infringement on personal freedom and parental rights.

New York City will retain its school mask requirement, but the state of New York has not imposed a statewide policy.

President Joe Biden and federal health officials have emphasized that remote learning should not be used as a strategy to counter the delta variant surge. Even as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised their guidance last week and called for universal masking in schools, the agency stressed the need for students to return to class.

“We can and we must open schools this fall, full time,” Biden said recently. “It’s better for our children’s mental and emotional well-being, and we can’t afford another year out of the classroom.”

But with mask rules varying from state to state, and even within states and counties, the long-awaited return to school has many parents confused and unnerved.

Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, an expert on infectious diseases at the University of Southern California, said certain mask mandates make sense, but interventions “should be tied to the metrics.”

Also read | Long term Covid symptoms very rare in children, study confirms

Cases may rise as school gets underway, he said, but severe illness in children from Covid is rare. In the last year and a half, about 64,700 people in California have died from the virus. Klausner said just 23 deaths were of children between 5 and 17 years old.

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