Members of the Northwest School community are currently facing a challenging decision: whether to return back to school to attend classes or continue virtual learning. While in-person classes will be happening, both teachers and students are able to individually decide how they wish to proceed.
When the decisions were being made about reopening schools, data supported the idea that younger people were contracting and transmitting COVID-19 at much lower rates than older adults. This is why vaccine distribution is prioritized by age, and why many young adults and children are not yet vaccinated. While younger people are still largely less affected, the B117 variant that spread widely throughout the UK is now the predominant strain in the US as well, according to King 5 News. Link to video here. The variant is not directly linked to the rise in cases yet based on the lack of research, although the existence of new variants are causing the virus to transmit much faster.
This strain is one of five variants of concern, several of which have been proven to spread more easily. However, the B117 in particular is affecting young unvaccinated people at much higher rates at a time when schools are reopening. The CDC is showing that the numbers of people infected with COVID are not going down, but the demographics seem to have shifted from older people. This trend includes hospitalizations, according to CNBC.
There is hopeful news, however. Pfizer has tested its COVID vaccine in children from ages 12-15 and it was found to be 100% effective in a pool of 2,260 adolescents. This could mean that most students will be vaccinated before the 2021-2022 school year, and some aspects of our lives would return to normal. However, because kids under the age of 16 are still not eligible or even approved to receive the vaccine, it could be months before they have actual immunity. The 2020-2021 school year will likely end before the majority of middle and high school students are protected, and so the risks of going back to classrooms before summer are still more relevant than ever.
There is no “right” decision about returning to Northwest in person, especially with all the unknowns. The pandemic is not over, but there are many factors to consider, and families should decide together about how careful they want to be. It is important not to ignore new data, however, no matter how badly we want our lives to be normal again.