New school year, new urgency to fight COVID-19

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A mom whose daughter tested positive shortly after classes began. Parents begging for testing and frustrated at the lack of availability. A school district on the verge of shutting down from an outbreak. 

As a pediatrician, congresswoman, and parent myself, I hear concerns like these on a daily basis. Parents are worried. The COVID-19 pandemic is surging in many states, and it’s coinciding with the return to school for students across the country. 

Cases among children accelerated with the start of school, according to a recent report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, with more than 250,000 new cases added in the first week of September. Over 5 million children have tested positive so far, and more than 460 have died. The data shows that the Delta variant is affecting children more than prior iterations of the virus, and we are still learning about some risks to children, including long COVID. 

This should set off fire alarms for policymakers at all levels of government, parents, and school administrators — about implications for the children themselves, and for their communities. 

Although our collective focus has been on vaccinations, they are currently only available for those 12 and older. There are other ways to keep children safe. And since at best we’ll have some elementary school children vaccinated by Halloween, let’s put politics aside and use all the other tools we have at our disposal now. 

The science shows that the best way to keep our children and communities safe is through widespread vaccinations, mask use, good ventilation, and surveillance testing to keep infectious asymptomatic children and staff out of school. 

Unfortunately, there is continued resistance and a politicization of public health measures happening in school districts across the country. Some school boards and state legislatures are facing strong headwinds when trying to enact these commonsense measures. Some are actively opposing them!

As a member of Congress, I have pushed the Biden administration to update the public on its plans for rapid test procurement and distribution, so that more school districts have the ability to affordably administer rapid tests and slow the spread of the Delta variant, and whatever future iterations evolve. It’s essential that schools are able to take advantage of rapid testing as it becomes available, that the administration ensures there are abundant tests available at low or no cost, and that local officials be supportive of school testing programs.

This is how we keep our schools open, our children safely in school, and parents at work.

Older children should take the vaccine, which has been given to hundreds of millions of people and is safe and effective. I stand with the American Academy of Pediatrics in urging timely review of the safety and efficacy data submitted; and, if the data support the decision, quick emergency use authorization.  

Lags in vaccine authorization and rapid antigen test approvals are hampering our abilities to contain COVID. We must follow the science. And we must meet the moment with the urgency it deserves. Nominating and confirming an FDA commissioner to lead the agency during this unprecedented time would be a smart first step. Time is of the essence.

As a pediatrician by training, the immense challenges our health care providers, teachers, and parents face hits close to home. We owe it to them, and to our nation’s children, to get this right — right away. 

Rep. Kim Schrier, M.D. represents Washington’s 8th District.

Tags COVID-19 Kim Schrier rapid testing School Vaccination

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