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Definition of “fully vaccinated” could change based on addition of boosters, CDC director says

Students return to class on the first day of school at the Jericho, New York school district on August 26, 2021. (Alejandra Villa Loarca/Newsday RM/Getty Images)

Millions of students are heading back to school with a challenge they didn’t have to face last year.

The more contagious Delta variant is fueling a nationwide Covid-19 surge that’s sending younger people to hospitals – including children.

The best weapon for students ages 12 and up is vaccination, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. But kids too young to get vaccinated also have ways to help dodge Delta.

Before heading out: Minor symptoms that may have been overlooked in the past – such as a runny nose – shouldn’t be ignored now, said pediatrician Dr. Steven Abelowitz, regional medical director of Coastal Kids Pediatrics in California.

“With the current rise in Covid cases, especially in children, it is advised that parents of children even with minor symptoms should contact their pediatrician to rule out Covid,” Abelowitz said, matching guidance from the CDC.

Of course, some kids can get or spread the Delta variant without symptoms. So precautions during other parts of the day are important.

At the bus stop: When chatting with a friend outdoors, “the risk of acquiring coronavirus is very low,” CNN medical analyst and emergency physician Dr. Leana Wen said.

“Therefore, waiting at the bus stop or recess or coming out of the school, masks can be taken off.”

But if there are many children crowded together, “even though it’s outdoors, if you’re unvaccinated … the advantages of masks are going to outweigh the disadvantages,” Abelowitz said.

On the school bus: “Mask wearing is absolutely critical because you’re in close proximity in an enclosed space,” Wen said.

“Make sure to be wearing a mask that covers your nose and your mouth. It should be at least the quality of a 3-ply surgical mask,” she said.

“There are also KN95s, depending on the age of the child, that are even better. But the mask should be at least a 3-ply surgical mask. A cloth mask is not sufficient.”

The importance of masks this year: The CDC recommends students from kindergarten through grade 12 wear masks in school as the highly contagious Delta variant spreads nationwide.

The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends masks in schools for everyone over age 2.

The Delta variant has been a game changer, Abelowitz said.

New pediatric Covid-19 cases are “significantly higher than a few months ago — and climbing quite rapidly,” he said.

Get masks that kids actually like: There’s no point in wearing a mask if a child keeps tugging at it or taking it off in school.

“This is something that does take getting used to,” Wen said. “It may be good to practice wearing the mask at home and making sure that you’re OK with that type of mask.”

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