More than 18 months into the coronavirus pandemic, it remains the story most driving the news, particularly with schools. It’s a factor in everything from safety to budgets to curriculum. Vaccines and rates of vaccination continue to drive school news, too, especially as regions of the nation experience a midsummer surge in infections from the delta variant of the virus.
Updated July 28. In late July, several state and local governments declared that government employees would have to get vaccinated or comply with additional mitigation and testing requirements. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance that in areas where the virus is spreading all people should wear masks indoors at public venues, regardless of vaccination status, and that at schools, everyone of all ages and vaccination statuses should wear a mask. The guidelines followed news that vaccinated people could become infected (though they were unlikely to die or be hospitalized) and they could spread the virus, particularly the more-infectious delta variant.
Updated Aug. 14. Governors in Illinois, California, Washington and other states mandated masks for schools statewide. Some states or local school districts have also required school employees to be vaccinated, and the nation’s largest teachers union supports it. Despite the new information and CDC guidelines, governors in Florida, Texas, Arizona, Iowa, Oklahoma and South Carolina prohibited school districts from requiring masks, while the Arkansas prohibition is on hold by a judge. Several school districts in Florida and Texas have said they would require masks in defiance of the state prohibition. Mask requirements are changing rapidly, but The Washington Post tracks the changes here.
Updated Aug. 18. Tens of thousands of students and teachers are already quarantining due to exposure to someone with COVID-19 in a school that has already started the year. A school district in Texas added mask-wearing to its dress code as a way to circumvent the governor’s order against mandating masks. The Biden administration announced that boosters of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines would be available for people eight months after receiving them (beginning in late September).
Key question: How have local conditions and the political environment affected your school’s plan to hold classes in person?
- How do students feel about getting vaccinated themselves? Does this differ among age groups or other demographics?
- Did students make a different choice than their parents/guardians? Why?
- For vaccinated students, what led them to the decision to get the shot — medical advice, family risk/protection, requirement at work/sports, something else?
- What are your school’s policies on vaccines, masks, social distancing and other mitigation protocols?
- Are certain school activities (e.g. sports, music classes, lunch seating) different for students who are vaccinated compared to those who are eligible but unvaccinated?
- How do your school’s policies compare to other schools nearby or in your county or athletic conference?
- How are vaccine policies affecting how students weigh decisions for work, sports participation (school or club), socializing, volunteering, college search/visits?
- How are alumni from your school returning to colleges with varied vaccination requirements? Did any choose to not attend? How do they feel about a “more normal” year of college?
- Do professional athletes’ vaccination choice influence students’ opinions?
- Do You Need To Wear A Mask Indoors Where You Live? Check This Map (NPR, July 28)
- A Texas School Made Masks Part Of Its Dress Code To Get Around Gov. Abbott’s Ban (NPR, Aug. 18)
- As Schools Reopen, Vaccination Rates Among Teenagers Range From One Extreme To The Other (WBEZ Chicago, Aug. 18) — “Across the Chicago area, there are thousands of young people like Destiny who haven’t gotten vaccinated, many of whom are also conflicted about whether to get the shot. And, in interviews, many of these young people say they are following the lead of their parents in opting not to get vaccinated. … In interviews with WBEZ, many teens say they are influenced by social media posts that make them question the long-term consequences of taking the vaccine. At the same time, many also said they were conflicted about getting the vaccine because they want to be safe and yearn for a normal school year.”
- CDC wants more vaccinated people and schoolchildren to mask up — but Texas keeps it voluntary (Texas Tribune, July 28) — “Texas Republican state leaders held their ground against allowing local schools and governments to require masks. The CDC guidelines are not mandates and have no weight of law.”
- When Parents Forbid the COVID Vaccine (New Yorker, June 28)
- As Parents Forbid Covid Shots, Defiant Teenagers Seek Ways to Get Them (The New York Times, June 26) — “Most medical consent laws require parental permission for minors to get a vaccine. Now some places are easing restrictions for Covid shots while others are proposing new ones.”
- Vaccine hesitancy continues for some younger Americans. Here’s one reason why (CNN, July 3) — “Generally, vaccine coverage among young adults has been lower and increasing more slowly over time, compared to other age groups, according to a report published recently by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Their intent to get vaccinated is also lower. If the weekly pace of vaccinations continues at the rate from the week of May 22, only 57.5% of people under the age of 30 will have received at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine by the end of August.”
- Everyone Should Wear A Mask In Schools, Vaccinated Or Not, U.S. Pediatricians Say (NPR, July 20) — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised guidelines calling for masks only for unvaccinated students age 2 and up as well as staff. “Despite these recommendations, many schools won’t be able to require masks for the coming school year. South Carolina, for example, has prohibited districts from mandating masks for students or staff. In Texas, districts can’t require anyone, including parents and other visitors, to wear masks. Meanwhile, other states are requiring the opposite: In Washington, schools must mandate masks or face coverings indoors regardless of vaccination status.”
- Conservative media offers mixed messages on COVID-19 vaccine (Associated Press, July 21) — Skepticism about the COVID-19 vaccination is a common theme in media appealing to conservatives, despite assurances from doctors and scientists that the vaccine is safe and effective. Some medical experts worry that conflicting takes and outright distrust of the vaccine shown by influential media personalities contribute to a failure to meet inoculation goals aimed at arresting the pandemic.”
- Federal judge upholds Indiana University’s vaccine mandate (Axios, July 19)
- The NFL Warns Teams Will Forfeit Games And Players Won’t Be Paid In COVID Outbreaks (NPR, July 22) — Players react (via ESPN)
- NFL to fine unvaccinated players $14K for violating COVID-19 protocols (Axios, July 24)
The list reflects what I have read, heard and seen in my own media diet, so it comes from my perspective. Chicago is also over-represented because that’s where I live and work. The list is not meant to be comprehensive or exclusive of other ideas. Many of the stories were covered by multiple outlets, but links here lean toward sites available without a subscription, particularly nonprofit news sites like NPR and The 19th.