Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease expert, said Sunday he supports COVID-19 vaccine mandates for children attending schools as the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus continues to fuel a surge in cases.
"I believe that mandating vaccines for children in school is a good idea," Fauci told CNN's "State of the Union" program. "We've done this for decades and decades, requiring polio, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis vaccinations."
Currently, children under age 12 are not eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. But Fauci, in a separate interview on ABC's "This Week" program, said there should be enough data by early October for the US Food and Drug Administration to consider whether the shot is safe for children under that age.
"I think there's a reasonable chance" that the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines could get FDA clearance for kids under 12 before the upcoming holiday season, Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser to the White House, said last Tuesday.
Fauci's suggestion is in sharp contrast to that of Dr. Michael Osterholm, Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and a member of President Joe Biden's COVID-19 Advisory Board.
Dr. Osterholm said in a recent interview, "We have three groups of people: the vaccine-affirmative, who got their first shot as soon as it was available to them and who'll get the booster shot as soon as they can; the vaccine hesitant, who had and may still have some legitimate concerns, but who may well be persuaded now that one--and soon both--of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are fully approved and who are willing to be persuaded by overwhelming evidence of the safety of the vaccines and the data that shows they are helping; and the vaccine-hostile, people who under no conditions will be vaccinated against their will--some of whom don't even believe the pandemic is real. The vaccine-hostile we're never going to get; whatever they have to do to avoid getting vaccinated, they're going to do it.
"I have not supported a vaccine mandate in our own institution, the University of Minnesota. The reason for that is that anyone can refuse to get vaccinated for medical reasons or for religious reasons...so all they have to do is sign a sheet of paper, have it notarized, and they're exempt; and if parents chose not to have their minor children vaccinated, they could do the same for them. If we put a mandate in place, that's exactly what will happen. A lot of people will sign that exemption and we'll never get them back."
He agrees that a vaccine for children will be an important step in the right direction, "but we haven't done enough testing yet. We need more data before proceeding with a rollout, and when that happens, getting the vaccinations should be voluntary."
As schools re-open for the fall, the rise in coronavirus cases is already causing significant disruptions. Dozens of schools nationwide have had to shut down since opening in August.
Lincoln County Schools, who began classes last Monday, reported a total of 37 cases last week. No single school had more than seven. Lincoln Charter School, which began classes on August 11th, decided to change from 'masks optional' to 'masks required' last Monday. Administrator Jonathan Bryant told us Monday morning (Aug. 30th) that he'll be posting figures on cases at the Charter School campuses daily beginning Monday afternoon. He told us the dashboard would be available on the Lincoln Charter School website, but through Wednesday morning, we couldn't find it.
Catawba County's School Board voted last Monday to continue 'masks optional.' For the first week of school, Catawba County Schools had 99 confirmed positive cases in students, faculty, or staff. Because they are 'masks optional," CCS had 600 students and 32 faculty/staff in quarantine or isolation. [UPDATE: the Catawba County School Board held an emergency session Monday Aug. 30th and switched to masks required effective Sept. 2nd.]
During the first week of school, Cleveland County Schools reported 83 positive cases among students and staff. One Cleveland County school (North Shelby) had to close because of COVID cases.
Union County, which has about one-and-a-half times as many students as Lincoln County Schools, had 176 confirmed cases, but because they are 'masks optional,' that meant over 1800 students had to be quarantined.
Under the “StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit” from the NC Department of Health and Human Services, if a student wearing a mask tests positive, other students who were near that student don't have to be quarantined if they, too, were wearing a mask. If not, then they do.
The re-opening of schools is also contributing to a supply shortage of COVID-19 tests as schools revive surveillance programs that will require tens of millions of tests. CVS is limiting customers’ purchases of rapid, over-the-counter COVID-19 tests to a maximum of six packages online and four in its pharmacies, according to a Bloomberg report.
Masks are currently required--retgardless of vaccination status--in Lincoln County Schools, Lincoln Charter School, Gaston County Schools, Cleveland County Schools, Hickory City Schools and at Cleveland Community College. So far, they are not required in Catawba County Schools, Newton-Conover Schools, at Westlake Preparatory Academy, or at Gaston College.
The delta variant surge has resulted in at least eight states issuing or reissuing mask mandates.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has reinstated a mask mandate for that state; Gov. John Bel Edwards has temporarily reinstated Louisiana's statewide mask mandate indoors for all people age five and older; Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak says large indoor venues in cities like Las Vegas and Reno will be allowed to opt out of the state's mask requirements only if they verify their guests are vaccinated; New Mexico Governor Michelle Grisham has announced a temporary indoor mask mandate following a 90 percent increase in statewide COVID-19 hospitalizations over the last two weeks; Governor Kate Brown announced a new rule that will require people in Oregon to mask in most public outdoor settings — regardless of vaccination status — where physical distancing is not possible; the state of Washington is "requiring face masks for everyone over five years of age in most public indoor settings regardless of vaccination status. These include places like grocery stores, malls, gyms, and community centers. Masks are strongly recommended in crowded outdoor settings like sporting events, fairs, and concerts."
California's Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) is urging employers and workers within the state to begin wearing face coverings indoors regardless of their vaccination status. Last month, California's Department of Public Health updated its masking guidance in response to an uptick in state COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations,sayings that all people should wear face masks in public indoor places regardless of vaccination status. California has a mask mandate for public schools.
"It is not a good time to travel to the islands," Hawaii Gov. David Ige said Monday, asking visitors to limit travel to the Aloha State to essential business purposes because the surge of COVID-19 cases has overwhelmed Hawaii's health care system. "Our hospitals are at capacity," he said. "Our ICUs are full."
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and other state officials announced a 'masks mandatory' order for all schools in that state at a Tuesday afternoon (Aug. 31st) news conference.
Do the masks work? Dr. Osterholm, who has been our source for much of what we've reported about the pandemic the last several months, says "maybe." He says the paper and cloth masks that most people wear aren't very effective. They can help to keep you from spreading the virus if you have it, but they don't offer the wearer much protection. Osterholm says you need N95 or KN95 masks, which are far better than the cloth or even surgical masks. He compares it to the advances in vehicle safety. "When we first go seat belts, that was better than nothing. But now we have safety belts with shoulder harnesses, airbags, windshields that don't produce shattered glass, and cars that even stop themselves to avoid a crash."
Osterholm says for your own and your family and friends protection, wearing an N95 or KN95 mask is a good idea..."and wear it properly, it has to cover both the nose and mouth. If it isn't over your nose, it's just a diaper for your chin--worthless!"
Osterholm does urge everyone who can to get vaccinated. "The vaccines aren't perfect; they don't prevent everyone from getting the virus, but there is strong evidence that they do reduce severity of infections and deaths."
If you attend any public event in our area, it's almost certain that less than half the people there will have been fully vaccinated.
Statewide, 60% of North Carolina's adults are now fully vaccinated, but locally, it's much less. Lincoln County has 40% of the county's population fully vaccinated; Catawba County has 43%, Gaston County, 39%; and Cleveland County, 38%. Orange County has 77% of its population fully vaccinated; Dare County, 63%; Wake County, 61%; Durham and Buncombe counties, both 59%; Mecklenburg County, 52%.
North Carolina reported 4,569 new COVID cases Monday after reporting over eight thousand last week on both Thursday and Friday. Hospitalizations declined, however, from 3,651 Friday to 3,509 Monday.