Just weeks into the new school year, at least 90,000 children in 19 states have had to or are currently quarantining or isolating after contracting COVID-19 or coming into contact with someone who tested positive for the disease.
The disruptions have caused uncertainty for parents, students and school districts that had hoped to resume in-person instruction after a year marked by lockdowns and virtual learning.
The staggering number of K-12 students under quarantine is largely driven by the highly infectious delta variant that has taken hold as the dominant strain in the U.S.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), more than 180,000 children tested positive for COVID-19 between Aug. 12 and Aug. 19, which accounts for nearly 4 percent of the more than 4.5 million child coronavirus infections reported since the beginning of the pandemic.
Children accounted for more than 1 in 5 new COVID-19 cases last week, according to the AAP.
Kids are also starting to fill up hospitals. As of Thursday morning, more than 1,400 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized in pediatric inpatient beds across the nation, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
At least 90,000 students have had to or are quarantining or in isolation due to COVID-19 exposure, according to an analysis of news reports and school data that only included student-specific quarantine information.
When factoring in reports that included both students and staff as a single statistic, the number of people quarantining or in isolation rose to at least 154,000.
Isolation, in some districts, refers to individuals who test positive for COVID-19, while quarantine involves people who come into contact with the virus. Both circumstances, however, force students and faculty members to spend time outside of the classroom.
The Hill analyzed reports for instances where students were either isolated or quarantined because of inconsistent reporting formats across districts, and referred to that number as “in quarantine."
Mississippi is among the states seeing a large number of students pulled from school. About 65,525 K-12 students in the state have had to quarantine at some point, according to the Mississippi Free Press.
In just the five days spanning from Aug. 16 to Aug. 20, more than 5,700 new student COVID-19 cases were reported to the state, which triggered a quarantine period for nearly 29,000 students who were exposed to the virus.
The outbreak among children has been so dire in Mississippi that at least six kids have died from coronavirus-related complications, according to the Clarion Ledger.
The most recent pediatric COVID-19 death, a child under the age of 5, was reported on Aug. 25.
A considerable number of students have also been forced to quarantine in Georgia’s metro Atlanta area.
Within the first week of classes at a charter school in Atlanta, more than 100 students were put into quarantine. The head of school at Drew Charter School told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that students in the second, sixth and seventh grades were mainly affected.
The situation has become so serious that more than 23,000 students and staff in metro Atlanta schools have been forced to quarantine just a few weeks into the academic school year, WSB-TV reported.
Louisiana and Florida schools have also reported high caseloads, sometimes inching into the thousands.
For the week ending on Aug. 21, 2,960 students attending Jefferson Parish schools in Louisiana had to quarantine, according to NOLA.com. More than 4,600 students and staff from NOLA Public Schools in New Orleans have also had to quarantine, according to the latest data available, which was reported on Monday.
Though reports of students quarantining have been prevalent in the south, The Hill found that school districts in other states — including Hawaii, Michigan, Illinois, Kansas, Indiana and California — have also grappled with quarantining students.
The disruptions in classrooms have also impacted lawmakers on a personal level. Rep. Nancy MaceNancy MaceEdie Falco join PETA in pitching animal experimentation reforms Press: GOP freak show: Who's in charge? Juan Williams: GOP infighting is a gift for Democrats MORE (R-S.C.) tweeted that one of her children had to quarantine early on into the school year.
Only took 6 school days before one of the kids had to quarantine.— Rep. Nancy Mace (@RepNancyMace) August 25, 2021
I HATE DELTA VARIANT
Get vaxxed. Wear a mask. It might just save your life.
In some cases, schools have had to close to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including four school districts in Texas, The Associated Press reported.
Bans on school mask mandates and the fact that no vaccines have been approved for children under 12 are helping to drive cases.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the only vaccine authorized for adolescents ages 12 to 15. Pfizer and Moderna have begun testing their shots on children under the age of 12, and Surgeon General Vivek MurthyVivek MurthyOvernight Health Care — Biden mandate faces Dem resistance Surgeon general warns of mental health challenges confronting youth Murthy says travel restrictions are 'temporary measures' MORE earlier this month said he thinks “the odds are high” that a vaccine for children under the age of 12 will be approved during the next school year.
Political opposition to mask mandates is another issue that may be helping COVID-19 spread.
The CDC recommends universal indoor masking for all students, staff, teachers and visitors in K-12 schools, but a number of GOP-led states are bucking those recommendations.
At least eight states, all of which have GOP governors, have enacted bans on mask mandates or allowed parents to opt out their children: Tennessee, Florida, Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, Arizona — beginning on Sept. 29 — and Texas.
Some GOP officials have argued that the decision of whether to wear a mask is a personal choice and thus should be determined by parents, not schools.
“Texans, not government, should decide their best health practices, which is why masks will not be mandated by public school districts or government entities,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has said, according to The Associated Press.
“Parents are in the driver’s seat, and it’s their right to make decisions that best fit the needs of their children. Safety recommendations are welcomed and encouraged — mandates that place more stress on students and families aren’t,” Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) said in a statement earlier this month, upon announcing that districts that stay open for in-person teaching and follow state laws would be able to receive grant money from the state.
A number of school districts, however, are defying the state governments and requiring students and faculty to wear face coverings, including Florida’s Miami-Dade County Public Schools, which is the largest school district in the state.
The battle over school mask mandates is taking place even though a recent poll conducted this month by Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that roughly 60 percent of Americans support mask mandates for students and teachers.
While there is already an astonishing number of students who have had to quarantine because of COVID-19, some of the largest school districts in the country have not yet begun the academic year.
That includes New York City public schools, the largest school district in the U.S., which includes about 1 million students.
New York City Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de BlasioNew York City Council expected to vote on measure to give noncitizens voting rights The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - New vaccine mandate in NYC; Biden-Putin showdown Overnight Health Care — Biden touts drug price push MORE (D), however, is already preparing for the school year to kick off amid the delta surge, announcing on Monday, shortly after the FDA’s approval of the Pfizer vaccine, that all school teachers and staff will need to be at least partially inoculated against COVID-19 by Sept. 27.