KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Students head back to school as the COVID-19 pandemic rages for a second year.
Thousands of teachers and students have been vaccinated across Kansas City, but health experts have said the vaccination rate in schools isn’t high enough to keep students and staff as safe as they need to be. There are also thousands of students who are too young to get a vaccine.
Most, but not all, school districts have implemented mask mandates requiring everyone to wear masks while inside school buildings. That also causes concern.
“Our fear is that schools will end up having to close again, and we think that’s a really bad outcome,” said Dr. Steve Stites, Chiefs Medical Officer at the University of Kansas Health System. “So what you have to weigh is that whether that you’re going to take masks off and be in school, versus leave masks on and stay in school. And I think that I think that’s really the crux of the question.”
Even with vaccines, masks, and other precautions, many doctors agree that the delta variant is a different situation, and that it’s much more dangerous for everyone. They say it’s easier to spread and it spreads much faster than the original version of the virus.
“The delta variant is different, the incubation time is faster, you can often get sick and one to two days after you’ve been exposed, and one person may be infecting five to eight people,” Stites said. “So we see it happening faster than it did before.”
Stites explained that while the delta variant spreads faster, it will still take about a month to see the true impact the variant could have on schools and classrooms.
“It’s not just gonna happen, you know, right away,” Stites said during a Facebook updates Wednesday. “So we’ll start seeing upticks from school, I think in probably two to three weeks, if there’s going to, we’ll start to see that impact. And then we’ll start seeing an acceleration thereafter. And then acceleration could be exponential.”
Stites and other experts said that’s one reason it is so important to have mask mandates in schools right now. They say masks are the most effective way to prevent the rapid transmission of many illnesses, including COVID-19. Another reason is that doctors are seeing more children sick with the delta variant.
“Kids seem to be more resilient to the ABA strain than the delta variant, we’ve heard a lot more children being sick, we’ve seen a lot of young adults coming into our hospital now,” Stites said.