Manju Bansal and his wife Sheila Santwani heard with dismay about the death of 4 teachers from COVID-19 within 24 hours in Broward County, Florida. Their son Avi (15) and daughter Amiya (13) from Willow Glen, (CA), are about to resume in-person classes, just as the Delta, Lambda and other Covid -19 variants  are making their way into the community. 

K-12 schools reopen on August 16. Terrified parents are preparing to send children to school knowing that an estimated 93 million people in the country, who are eligible for shots, have chosen not to get them. 

“We are in a critical situation now. We’ve had 615,000-plus deaths and we are in a major surge now as we’re going into the fall, into the school season,” said Manju Bansal, quoting Dr. Fauci Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

According to Fundstrat’s daily update, only 50% are fully vaccinated nationwide, and in California, 54% are fully vaccinated as per the State Health Dept. Covid cases have increased 10 times since June 30th. The seven day case average is 108,133 cases a day while 49 days ago the case average was 10,477. In California the increase in cases since June 5th is 14 times higher, from 798 to a 11,244 seven day case average.

Forty eight million unvaccinated children under 12 are too young to be eligible for a shot until at least fall. They make up 15 percent of the total population in the United States. Once they are eligible, it is uncertain how many will get shots; even some vaccinated parents are hesitant to inoculate their children.

Kids are heading back to school across the country

A New York Times report states “Unless the nation finds a way to persuade the unwavering, escaping the virus’s grip will be a long way off, because they make up as much as 20 percent of the adult population.” About 30 percent of the adult population in the United States has yet to receive a shot, and about 58 percent of those ages 12 through 17 have yet to receive a shot.The rate of vaccinations across the country has slowed significantly since April.

Nationwide, about 97 percent of people hospitalized with Covid-19 are unvaccinated, federal data shows.

In Los Angeles County where only 53 percent are fully vaccinated, school administrators, teachers and doctors try to assuage the fears of the families. Speakers at an August 4th Ethnic Media Services briefing on protecting campus communities as schools reopen, shared the safety measures in place to protect students, their families, teachers, administrators from COVID-19 – including mask mandates, vaccine availability, ventilation, social distancing, testing, mental health counseling. 

Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, Chair of LA County Board of Supervisors and 1st District Supervisor has worked tirelessly to lower barriers and increase access to education for all residents, regardless of where they live and urged people to get the vaccine, “Three highly effective vaccines are available to slow the spread and save lives. Getting vaccinated is the easiest task to stay safe. It is important all children above the age of 12 be vaccinated.”

“Back to school is an exciting time,” she said. “We want to welcome everyone back safely. The majority of children are looking forward to returning to school. Parents of only 5 to 6 percent of the students are not ready to send their children to school yet and for them we have set up independent study plans,” said Superintendent Dr. Debra Duardo, LA County Office of Education at the EMS briefing. “Teachers have been trained to be trauma informed.”

Safety measures and mitigation strategies like masking, disinfecting, washing hands, vaccinations have been diligently followed by the school districts, said the Superintendent. “In the face of the fluid and changing situation, districts have plan A and plan B. If anything changes we will keep the parents informed and work closely with the Department  of Health,” she said. 

Dr. Nava Yeganeh, a pediatric infectious disease specialist in Santa Monica pointed out that 50 % of the school going children aged 12 to 17 have been vaccinated. For children aged 5-12 years old CDC and ACIP will take the decision this fall, based on FDA’s data. “It is very important that those eligible to take vaccines do so in order to protect the ones who are not yet eligible to take the vaccine,” she emphasized.

“Additionally it is important to plan ahead when scheduling appointments for vaccines,” said the doctor. “It takes five weeks from the date of the first dose of the vaccine to be fully protected.” 

“Clear and actionable guidance for parents, children and teachers ensures a safe return of children to schools,” said Dr.Jasmine Eugenio, Pediatric Senior Physician, LA County Department of Health Services at the EMS briefing.

California became the first state in the nation to implement the requirement that teachers and other school employees must either be vaccinated against Covid-19 or submit to regular testing. 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday August 11th, “To give parents confidence that their children are safe as schools return to full, in-person learning, we are urging all school staff to get vaccinated. Vaccinations are how we will end this pandemic.”

Both 15 year old Avi and 13 year old Amiya are vaccinated. 

But Avi is reluctant to resume in-person learning. He feels safer at home. 

“He has to go to school,” says Sheila, a realtor and property manager. “Though it was certainly a year that taught them adaptability, resilience and the value of friendships…their learning did suffer. We can’t afford to have the children fall behind in class.”

Ritu Marwah is a 2020 California reporting and engagement fellow at USC Annenberg’s Center for Health Journalism.

Ritu Marwah is an award-winning author ✍️ and a recognized Bay Area leader in the field of 🏛 art and literature. She won the 2023 Ethnic Media Services award for outstanding international reporting;...