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October 01, 2021 - 3 min read

Back to school with COVID-19 [UPDATED]

Update: On October 1, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced a COVID-19 vaccination requirement for all public and private schoolchildren in the state. The mandate will apply to grades 7-12 or K-6 once the FDA has fully approved a COVID-19 vaccine for the relevant age group.

Originally published August 10:

Despite a return to in-person schooling, employees with school-aged children are facing new uncertainties heading into the academic year. Prompted by the Delta variant’s rapid spread, states and school districts are re-thinking mask mandates and safety protocols. Parents are having to juggle protecting kids and communities from COVID-19 with differing messaging on safety and masking – all while reducing anxiety for their children about to begin a new school year. It’s a tall order. Companies can help their employees by acknowledging the challenges, staying up to date on the latest COVID-19 and Delta variant developments, and adapting internal safety protocols to meet the moment as the pandemic continues to evolve.

We’re still learning about the Delta variant. What we do know is the strain is highly contagious, with a 60% higher risk of household transmission than the Alpha variant –  a variant already more transmissible than the original COVID-19 virus. The Delta variant’s transmission rate drastically increases the likelihood that people, including children, will be exposed to the virus and therefore be at greater risk of getting sick, hospitalization, and death. Because of the Delta variant’s dangers, states and local authorities are readdressing COVID-19 mandates and precautions.

California, the Department of Public Health released its COVID-19 Public Health Guidance for K-12 Schools in mid-July, mandating facemasks indoors. However, should students or employees refuse to wear a mask, how and when to enforce the mandate will be left to school districts. California, with over 1,000 school districts educating over 6 million students, will have a wide range of enforcement policies for masks. Parents should check directly with their children’s school or district.

For individuals 12 years and older, vaccination remains the best way to combat the spread of COVID-19 and the Delta variant. Partial or full vaccination rates among Californians ages 12-17 hit nearly 50% by August 2021, with Pfizer’s vaccine being the only vaccine approved for this age range. While there is no vaccine available for children under 12 years of age, reports estimate the end of 2021 as the earliest for authorization from the FDA.

To discuss the balancing act of keeping kids virus-free while preparing them mentally for a return to school, mother of three and senior medical director for Blue Shield of California Malaika Stoll, M.D., recently shared her thoughts:

“Helping children understand the necessary precautions, without making them anxious, is the goal… It is important to let children know that these concerns are understandable,” says Dr. Stoll. “At the same time, the fact that schools are opening is positive—for students and for families. Help your children find things to be excited about, like seeing a favorite teacher or friend, returning to sports or other activities, or getting new school supplies.”

Blue Shield of California’s employers and brokers can stay up to date with the latest COVID-19 and health-related news through our News Center, or subscribe here to receive News Center articles directly.

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