The next wave of COVID-19 in the US may be the worst yet, say experts who have been tracking the spread of the disease since January 2020.
The recent spike has already spread to states like Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Texas and Florida, causing many schools that had opened to shut down again. The same is happening in California. In Stockton, a school that opened July 27 shut down the past week after some students came down with the disease. Other schools are still waiting and watching, considering their options. Worried parents, not sure what to do, say they are worried that students tested positive just a week after the school opened.
The California site tracking COVID-19 (covid19.ca.gov/state-dashboard) shows, as of August 17, that California has 4,043,407 confirmed cases of COVID-19, resulting in 64,201 deaths.
Seeing the rising cases in children, more than 70 parents of children in the Fremont Unified School District (FUSD) in California protested on August 16, seeking that FUSD School board members, C.J. Cammack, the superintendent, and Greg Bailey, the director of student support services, allow online classes. FUSD Schools open Wednesday, August 18.
“When we signed for onsite class COVID was in the flatten-the-curve phase,” said Jhansi Kalapala, who hosted the protest, and the meeting with Cammack. She has one child in elementary school, and the other in high school, in the district.
“We submitted the petition signed by over 500 parents,” Kalapala said, adding that while the superintendent agreed after an hour-long meeting to extend online class registrations that were shut down on August 13, there is a long waiting list for those classes.
When indica News reached out to FUSD, Bailey replied by email: “At this time our enrollment window has paused so we may calibrate and ensure adequate staffing. All enrollment applications received after 4:00 pm on Friday, August 13, will be reviewed, placed on a waitlist, and we will contact you as soon as possible.”
FUSD Superintendent Cammack has not responded to indica News email until press time.
Speaking on behalf of parents, Kalapala said she was concerned about the schools’ safety measures.
“The teacher asks children to wipe tables. That is good, but after wiping don’t you have to wash your hands? You stay in the classroom for 45 minutes without washing your hands… You are holding germs for 45 minutes in your hand,” Kalapala said. Given that middle and high school students change rooms after each class, just wearing masks is not likely to stop the spread of the virus, she said, pointing out that the children also had to stack their school bags on the floor, an unsafe practice.
In addition, FUSD schools do not ask students 12 or above if they have been vaccinated.
“We would like the board and school authorities to consider the online school option for non-vaccinated children, especially K-6 students, without the risk of losing instruction time until it is safe for them to return,” Kalapala said.
Vinita Verma, former president of the City of Fremont Council Parent Teacher’s Association), told indica News, “The Virtual Academy was created for the child’s safety and the school offered it. Now parents are upset.”
Verma, who has a daughter in an FUSD high school, said some parents even questioned why she wanted virtual classes.
According to the petitioners, a May 2021 survey showed the rate of infection has flattened, encouraging parents to consider sending their children back for in-person schooling. However, the spread of the highly infectious delta variant of the virus has changed things.
One parent at San Ramon Valley Unified School District, who did not want to be named, said that though school opened only last Tuesday, the data shows 35 students have already been infected. She points out parents are stuck without options because the online option now has a long waiting list.
According to the SRVUSD, where the number of cases is rising every day, schools have no plan to shut down, and claim they have no data on the vaccination status of students 12 and older.
“I am not aware of how many [unvaccinated] students we have that are over 12 years of age,” Denise Jennison, coordinator for communications and public information at SRVSD, told indica News.
Asked about a California Department of Public Health order requiring workers and on-site volunteers in TK-12 public and private schools to verify vaccination status, with those not fully vaccinated being required to undergo at least weekly COVID-19 testing, Jennison responded via email: “We will comply with this requirement. We have until October 15 to be in full compliance.”
According to the CDPH Office of Communications, delta has been spreading rapidly, in a pattern consistent with that seen in other places.
“The rapid increase in the delta variant suggests that this strain is more easily transmitted between people than other strains circulating in California,” a CDPH spokesperson told indica News. “Nevertheless, there is evidence that vaccines available in the U.S. are effective against the delta variant. This is a reminder of the importance of vaccination to control the spread of COVID-19.”
According to data reported to CDPH as of August 12, 54.6% of people aged 12-17 years have received at least one dose, and 43.0% are fully vaccinated.
“We are in the midst of the so-called fourth COVID wave,” said Prasun Mishra, founding president and CEO of the American Association for Precision Medicine (AAPM), and chair of the AAPM coronavirus taskforce, “It is just a matter of time that the highly infectious and deadly delta variant spreads across the US like wildfire, the way it did in other parts of the world.”
He quoted the National Institute of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins, who had warned that the U.S. could see 200,000 COVID cases a day again as the delta variant spreads, particularly among unvaccinated people. Mishra pointed out that the delta variant could infect both unvaccinated and vaccinated individuals (also called breakthrough cases). While unvaccinated individuals often exhibited mild symptoms, they could still carry and spread the disease to those who had not yet been vaccinated.
Mishra agreed that children’s lives were being put at risk.
“Yes, schools should be extra careful as they open. I suggest implementing a hybrid model to allow students – unvaccinated, exposed, infected, concerned, or living with high-risk individuals – an option to participate remotely. The lives of our children are at stake here.”
He detailed the dangers involved:
“To date, at least 60% of the US population have received at least one dose; overall 51% are fully vaccinated. Some states have higher vaccination rates than others (usafacts.org). Due to this, there is a long way to go before achieving herd immunity. Unlike the original strain of the COVID-19 that largely spared children, the delta variant is infecting children (theatlantic.com) and sending more kids to the hospital (nytimes.com). “Moreover, asymptomatic individuals (vaccinated or unvaccinated) can be silent carriers of the virus. Although unvaccinated individuals are sitting targets, the delta variant also affects vaccinated individuals.
“Recently, states like Delaware have seen a sharp rise in cases of COVID breakthrough cases (whyy.org). My advice will be to be extra careful, regardless of your vaccination status. Be mindful that even if you are fully vaccinated you can still be a carrier. So please take the necessary precautionary measures regardless of the vaccination status.“
Mishra said that because mRNA vaccines, such as Pfizer and Moderna, rely on the first dose to create an immune response, while the second dose strengthens the immunity to SARS-CoV2 infection, the second shot is critical to building up strong immunity.
In a press conference Friday, Dr. Chai Rongkavilit of UCSF-Fresno said Pfizer may be soon getting emergency approval to vaccinate children.
“We expect children aged 5 to 12 to be vaccinated sometime in September,” Rongkavilit said.