ST. LOUIS — Doctors are warning parents that time is running out to get eligible students fully vaccinated before the start of the school year.
Currently, kids 12 and older can get the two-shot Pfizer vaccine. According to medical officials, it's a five-week process to be considered fully vaccinated: three weeks between doses and two weeks after the second dose. Many St. Louis area schools return to the classroom the week of Aug. 23.
Education Plus is a cooperative of 54 school districts in the St. Louis metro area. Districts are all tasked with the same challenge: how can we keep students in class but safe?
“How do we create an environment that allows for face-to-face learning with as few disruptions as possible?" Education Plus CEO Paul Ziegler said. "Again, we want our kids back. We are best — we are really good when we have them in school. It's when we have the constant disruptions where students are having to be quarantined or teachers have to be out due to quarantine. Those are the situations we want to avoid."
Ziegler said the best form of protection is the vaccine. After that, masks, distancing, screening and good hygiene will be emphasized to reduce disruptions.
"Realistically, there will be quarantines in our schools this year,” Ziegler said. “As we've all seen there continues to be transmission in many communities. We are seeing it now, here in our own community."
The CDC released new guidelines earlier this month on masks in the classroom. It says fully vaccinated students and staff don't need to wear masks. Those who are not vaccinated are advised to continue wearing a mask.
5 On Your Side reached out to several large districts to find out if they will require students to wear masks and if the policy will be different for those who are vaccinated. The majority of districts including Belleville, Rockwood, Parkway, Hazelwood, Edwardsville, Alton and Francis Howell said decisions are still being made.
Meanwhile, a Wentzville spokesperson said masks will be optional regardless of vaccination status. The Fox C6 district said masks were optional for summer school unless the school surpassed a 2% positivity rate. The spokesperson said the board of education would need to take additional action for masks to be mandatory this fall.
Ziegler said each district will have its own plan based on community factors and student needs. He anticipated schools making their decisions known by August.