As I write this, public schools in Williston are welcoming students to their first day of the 2021-2022 school year.
I’m sure other schools are doing the same and that all public schools in North Dakota will be operating at full strength in the next week or two.
When the school year ended last Spring, I was very hopeful that we would be starting this year with COVID-19 in our rearview mirror. I believed that to be the case because three safe, viable, and reliable vaccines had been rolled out and I was sure that after over a year of living with the scourge of the Coronavirus, Americans in general and North Dakotans in particular, would roll up their sleeves and be vaccinated.
Sadly, that did not happen to the extent necessary to achieve herd immunity and now the Delta variant of the virus is raging through the southeastern United States and is responsible for almost all new cases of the virus in ND.
The Delta variant is considerably more contagious than the Alpha iteration of this virus and impacts children at a higher rate. Those under age twelve are not eligible for the vaccine yet so they depend on those of us that are to protect their health.
That is why ND United has encouraged everyone who is eligible to receive the vaccine to do so. That is why we have encouraged local school districts follow the science and take every conceivable step to mitigate this threat so that schools can remain open and face to face learning can continue uninterrupted.
Last Friday, I interviewed Dr. Kathy Anderson on “News and Views.” I asked Dr. Kathy Anderson on the show to talk about the Delta variant and what we should do to make sure our kids are as safe as possible in schools. You can catch that interview here.
In an open letter to the North Dakota School Boards Association and All School Boards, Dr. Anderson wrote the following in her capacity as the President of the ND Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics:
“To maintain in-person instruction while mitigating risks, the AAP and CDC urges schools to adopt the following clear recommendations:
- School districts be in close communication and coordinate with state and local public health authorities, school nurses, local pediatric practitioners, and other medical experts.
- All eligible individuals should receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
- Only 26.2% of vaccine eligible adolescents in North Dakota have received partial vaccination and only 20.7% are fully vaccinated.
- North Dakota, as a whole, has only 50.6% of the population partially vaccinated and 47.1% fully vaccinated.
- All students older than 2 years and all school staff should wear face masks at school (unless medical or developmental conditions prohibit use) for the following reasons:
- A significant portion of the student population is not yet eligible for vaccination.
- Protecting unvaccinated students from COVID-19 reduces transmission.
- It is difficult for schools to monitor or enforce mask policies that are optional or exempt vaccinated persons; universal masking is the best and most effective strategy to create consistent messages, expectations, enforcement, and compliance.
- As noted above, North Dakota has an extremely low vaccination rate, meaning many community members are not protected from COVID-19.
- Universal masking from the 2020-21 school year meant a demonstrable decline in other respiratory illnesses that could take children away from school.
- The Delta variant is more easily spread among children, adolescents, and adults.
- Adequate and timely COVID-19 testing resources must be available and accessible.
- Schools must continue to take a multi-pronged, layered approach to protect students, teachers, and staff. Combining these layers of protection will make in-person learning safe and possible.
It is critically important to develop strategies that can be revised and adapted depending on the viral transmission and test positivity rate throughout the community and schools. School policies should be adjusted to align with new information about the pandemic; administrators should refine approaches when specific policies are not working.
Schools have an obligation to keep children safe during the Delta variant surge and adopting the recommendations from the AAP and CDC is the best way to do this.”
Nick Archuleta, NDU President