The end of remote learning may finally be in sight. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director, Rochelle Walensky, M.D., all schools are likely to be able to resume in-person classes by the fall. In an April 7 Instagram Live with ABC News, Walensky said that parents and teachers should be prepared for this possibility. “We should anticipate, come September 2021, that schools should be full-fledged in-person and all of our children back in the classroom,” she said.
Walensky made these remarks one day after the CDC released a press release stating that millions of teachers were vaccinated in March, and by the end of March, nearly 80% of pre-K through 12th grade teachers, school staff, and childcare workers received at least their first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine. “Our push to ensure that teachers, school staff, and childcare workers were vaccinated during March has paid off and paved the way for safer in-person learning,” Walensky said in the press statement.
During the Instagram Live, Walensky said that the resuming of in-person schools in September isn’t reliant on whether children are vaccinated, but she does expect a vaccine will be available for kids ages 12 and up by the middle of May. Last month, Pfizer-BioNTech announced its vaccine demonstrated 100% efficacy in children ages 12 to 15. “We plan to submit these data to FDA as a proposed amendment to our Emergency Use Authorization in the coming weeks and to other regulators around the world, with the hope of starting to vaccinate this age group before the start of the next school year,” said Albert Bourla, chairman and CEO of Pfizer. Additionally, Moderna has started its study on the effectiveness of its vaccine in children six months to younger than 12 years old, and Johnson & Johnson says its vaccine for children under 18 could be available by September.
On Wednesday, during a White House briefing, Walensky said that a more contagious variant of coronavirus, the B.1.1.7 variant, is now the most dominant strain in the United States. According to Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, this strain, first discovered in the United Kingdom, is infecting kids at a higher rate. “Unlike the previous strains of the virus, we didn’t see children under eighth grade get infected often, or they were not frequently very ill. They didn’t transmit to the rest of the community. That’s why I was one of those people very strongly supporting reopening in-class learning. B.1.1.7 turns that on its head,” Osterholm told NBC’s Meet the Press. Osterholm said that 749 schools in Minnesota have reported cases of the B.1.1.7 variant over the last two weeks. “[The B.1.1.7 variant is] now 50–100% more infectious, it causes more severe illness 50–60% of the time,” said Osterholm. “This is almost like having a whole new pandemic descend upon us. The only good news is our vaccines do work against it.”
According to the CDC, 33.1% of the U.S. population has received at least one vaccine shot, and 19.4% of the population is fully vaccinated. “While we have fully vaccinated 19% of the population, 80% of the population remains unvaccinated and that is certainly enough to cause a surge. And so on a population level, we still very much need to practice good public health measures—masking mitigation, distancing,” said Walensky.
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