As the number of COVID-19 infections in the Philadelphia region increases, and school districts begin to reopen for in-person learning, we recognize that some parents and guardians are understandably scared and full of questions. APM, with the help of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), local public health experts and others, is here to answer your questions about how to keep kids safe from COVID-19.
Q: What does the CDC think about schools opening, especially now that cases are increasing again?
A: As the new school year begins, the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics and many other experts agree that reopening schools should be a priority. We are in a very different place than we were a year ago. We have very effective vaccines, we know a lot more about how to open schools safely and we have a heightened awareness of some of the challenges that kids face when they’re not receiving face-to-face instruction in school.
Q: What do we know about the transmission of COVID in a school setting?
A: Overall, studies suggest that last year, in-school transmission was generally low when schools took basic precautions. When you have masks, you are not going to see major outbreaks in schools. There may be some transmissions, but they’re going to be pretty infrequent. APM requires all students and teachers to be properly masked at all times in our Early Child Education centers. For more information, click here.
Q: How likely are children to get COVID?
A: Children under 10 seem to be less likely to transmit the virus than older children and adults. But another contributing factor is that schools are (or can be) controlled environments and may have stricter safety measures than the surrounding community.
Q: When will shots be available to children?
A: It’s difficult to give a specific date. This depends on how quickly the studies collect the necessary data and what regulators at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ultimately decide when they review the results. The data for children under 5 will also be submitted for FDA approval. Approval for the COVID-19 vaccine for kids 5-11 years old is unlikely before the end of 2021. So, the quick answer is soon and hopefully by early next year.
Note: Children 12 years and older are already eligible for the vaccine. The Pfizer-BioNTech is available for anyone 12+ years.
Q: Is it likely that the Delta variant will spread to kids under 12? Vaccination isn’t an option for them, and that’s frightening.
A: We know how you must feel. The good news is that the virus seems to largely spare young children. We know you’ve heard of some cases, but for the most part, the majority of young children do not contract the disease. When young children do get the virus, symptoms very often seem like a cold, a respiratory ailment or some other kind of common childhood illness.
We are currently seeing a larger number of hospitalizations related to the Delta variant, but that’s because cases are increasing across the country in general. The proportion of children getting sick is not higher than it was before, the Delta variant is just more contagious for all ages – that’s why it’s so important for anyone ages 12 and up to get vaccinated and keep everyone protected.
Q: I’m concerned about sending my kids to school. How can we protect them?
A: The one tool we have to protect our children is the vaccine. While children under 12 are not eligible for the vaccine, the more older kids and adults we have vaccinated, the less likely it is to spread to younger children.
Here’s some good news: The Archdiocese of Philadelphia will require all students and staff to wear masks when classes begin after Labor Day. The order applies to all elementary and secondary schools, as well as schools of special education in Philadelphia and some suburbs. The Philadelphia School Board is mandating COVID-19 vaccines for all staff, a move that will affect more than 20,000 workers. And everyone must wear masks.
APM has required that all staff are vaccinated by August 31. Those who are not vaccinated by then will be tested weekly. All APM staff must be masked in our facilities, vaccinated or not. Those are great first steps.
Q: My teenagers are refusing to get the vaccine. It’s very frustrating, and I don’t know what to do about it.
A: The most important thing that we can do is to get everyone who is eligible VACCINATED. That is the best way that we can protect our community and children, including younger children. We know you may feel like you’re unable to convince them, but please keep trying. Try to find out why they don’t want to get vaccinated and share information with them. Connect them with a family doctor or a trusted community leader who they can talk to and discuss their concerns about getting vaccinated.
In the meantime, remind them to use the same measures we have all along – such as mask-wearing and social distancing – to protect vaccinated and unvaccinated children. Think about what you’re doing, where you’re going and that outdoors is safer than in. In larger crowds, wear a mask. And that applies to kids ages 2 and up as well.
Q: Should I keep my unvaccinated children away from grandparents and older members of my family?
A: For fully vaccinated grandparents, the risk of infection is very low. Most experts agree that it’s fine to be together if the grandparents are fully vaccinated.
Q: What about babies and toddlers who may be heading back to daycare soon? How do we protect them?
A: As long as teachers are masked and vaccinated, they will be safe. While there are no guarantees, everyone will be safe as long as they keep to the rules: Masks for teachers and staff, masks for children 2 and up.