As new coronavirus variants emerge globally, public health experts are looking at one key group of individuals who may be vulnerable to future outbreaks – children. The consequences of the pandemic have hit children on multiple fronts, but most would argue school closures have caused the biggest disruption, turning their daily routine upside down and changing the way they socialize and learn, with many falling behind. In fall 2021 schools returned to in-person learning, however variants such as Delta and now Omicron may disrupt in-person learning if infections break out in school sites. While vaccinations continue to put the worst of the pandemic behind us, variants question vaccine efficacy and whether in-person learning will be affected going forward.
There has been a lot of buzz about coronavirus infections and outbreaks due to the Delta variant (and now concerns about the Omicron variant), but what is a variant and how does it affect children? A variant is just a different version of an already existing virus. As a virus is replicated, some copies contain variations from the original version. These differences result in the virus spreading easier and/or faster, creating more severe symptoms, or lengthening the time of infection. While some variants disappear, some do not. A prime example of this occurring is with the Delta variant, first identified in India, which spreads up to 50% faster compared to other variants and now accounts for 83% of all sequenced COVID cases in U.S. .
With new variants on the rise coupled with a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated groups in schools, more disruptions are inevitable. In the United States, as of November, children five years and older are eligible for vaccination. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that as of December 15, 2021, 20% of children ages 5-11, and 61% of children ages 12-17 have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose Fifty-two percent of those children (12-17) have been fully vaccinated . The Delta variant is extremely contagious and accounts for more than 98% of COVID-19 cases. Further, with varying vaccination rates, the variants are highly transmissible. [3,4]
The low vaccination rates and congregation of kids and adult staff in school settings puts those who are unvaccinated at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. The risk extends further as mandates, such as wearing masks and social distancing, are relaxed, or eliminated.
There are multiple strategies that were put in place to help limit the risk of COVID-19 spreading within schools and the community, including masking, social distancing, and temperature taking. Although data show these mitigation efforts lower the risk of viral spread, the goal should be minimizing the spread of the virus in the school community. The most effective way to do this is identifying infected individuals through testing for COVID-19 and keeping them away from schools and children, reducing further spread. Both variants appear to be highly contagious, and children can be carriers of the disease, even without presenting with symptoms.
Comprehensive K-12 coronavirus testing can be quickly implemented in schools and supported by government funds. With pooled sampling to keep costs more efficient, swabbing done quickly by students themselves, and prepaid return shipping to the testing facility, Thermo Fisher’s program is designed to make in-school coronavirus testing an easy reality for students, educators, and parents alike. To learn more about how to implement a coronavirus testing program, click here.
Missed our webinar on Supporting the Mental Health of School-Aged Children Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic? View it here. The presentation by Dr. Brett Harris is followed by information on the Thermo Fisher Scientific ReadySetCheck program on COVID testing in schools.
Meeting Recording: Click here
Access Passcode: 2F*9cwQ.
Meeting Slides: NYSPHA Thermo Fisher school MH.pdf
ReadySetCheck Slides: NY AM webinar draft_FINAL.pdf