- Schools expect to face another wave of COVID-19 outbreaks this fall as the omicron subvariant BA.5 steamrolls through the country to become the dominant strain of the virus. Some districts remain concerned about the spread even though vaccines are now available for children of all ages. Vaccination rates are fairly low among younger children, according to data analysis from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
- Responses are mixed among districts, with some beginning to reinstate indoor mask policies and others not enforcing any mitigation at all, said Noelle Ellerson Ng, associate executive director of advocacy and governance at AASA, The School Superintendents Association.
- As of Tuesday, data tracking company Burbio found only 6 of the top 500 school districts — or 1.2% — currently require masks in schools.
New cases will likely accelerate through the fall as students and staff begin returning to school, some from recent travels, according to Mara Aspinall, a professor of practice at Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions and COVID-19 testing advisor to the Rockefeller Foundation. The new variant has shown it can reinfect people with the virus, even multiple times.
While school communities review COVID-19 policies for the new school year, Ellerson Ng said it’s critical the conversation is centered around students.
Those discussions should include what policies are backed by science, what is easily feasible, and what is the school district's role in enforcing vaccine requirements or other policies, she said.
Community feedback can still drive a superintendent and school board’s decision to return or roll back COVID-19 precautionary measures in schools, Ellerson Ng said.
“A community that has stronger support or interest in mitigation strategies will likely have a superintendent that acts accordingly,” Ellerson Ng said. “There are 14,000 school districts across the nation. You’re going to see a combination of mitigation factors and responses in place vary, as it should.”
Washington, D.C. Public Schools announced last week it will continue to require masks for all students and staff when they return to school in August, NPR reported. On July 18, the San Diego Unified School District in California also brought back its indoor mask mandate, according to KPBS.
While mitigation strategies in most districts may not be as stringent as those, some schools may continue testing for the virus or hold more vaccine clinics, said Linda Mendonca, president of the National Association of School Nurses.
As school nurses enter another pandemic school year, they are prepared for what may come, Mendonca said. They have gained tools over the past two years to continue handling COVID-19 in their schools, she said, especially as districts relax contact tracing protocols.
“We’re still in this pandemic, and the virus isn’t going away,” Mendonca said. “Schools need to be vigilant, they need to be proactive. Even if they do come to a point where it’s not necessary to do certain mitigation strategies, we always need to have them in our back pocket.”