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Doctors concerned delta variant could have 'significant' impact on St. Louis area schools

The COVID-19 strain is disproportionately impacting young, unvaccinated people

ST. LOUIS — As things look a little more like they used to this summer, schools and families are hoping going back to school feels like “back to normal,” too--but the COVID-19 delta variant could threaten that.

“I think it could have a significant impact on our on our schools,” said Dr. Rachel Charney, SSM pediatric emergency physician with the Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force. 

She said she believes schools will be opened for in-person learning, but what the classroom looks like could depend on what happens over summer break with this variant.

"We know we have ways of opening the schools where it will decrease that transmission, using our masks, using our social distancing. The big question is, is especially with our teenagers, as they're becoming having the opportunity for vaccination, the schools are talking about: do we decrease the social distancing? Do we stop that? Do we make masking optional? And I think a lot of those conversations could be strongly influenced by what we see with the delta variant around the St. Louis area over the next couple of months.”

The available COVID-19 vaccines offer significant protection against the delta variant, studies show, but that leaves those who can’t get vaccinated yet more vulnerable to the strain.

“We know that people have seen this increasing number of cases in the young: young adults and children,” said Washington University infectious disease specialist Dr. Jason Newland. “They’re in the unvaccinated population especially those under 12 [who aren’t approved for vaccination yet].”

Throughout the pandemic, concern over serious complications centered around older adults. Dr. Newland said he hopes that remains true. 

“So far, it doesn't appear children have more severe disease than the original COVID-19,” Dr. Newland said. However, younger adults are more frequently winding up in the hospital than earlier in the pandemic.

“Vaccination, for young adults who have been spared for the most part, is that much more important with this delta variant present in our in our society, because we are definitely seeing that those individuals are landing in the ICU,” Dr. Newland said.

Dr. Charney points to rare instances of heart inflammation among teens getting vaccinated—and to subsequent assurance from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC that the shot’s still a good choice.

“The overwhelming benefit is still towards vaccinating our children and our young adults,” Charney said.

Data shows unvaccinated kids are safer if at least those around them are vaccinated.

“And that is another reason to start vaccinating,” Dr. Newland said. “Especially now as we've seen how safe the vaccines are."

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