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Schools opening after Labor Day could see fresh burst of coronavirus cases, experts say

Back to school after the Labor Day weekend could mean fresh spread of coronavirus unless schools take strong action to keep the virus in check, doctors and education experts are warning.

August saw an explosion of Covid-19 cases when some schools resumed in-person classes without mask measures in place and tens of thousands of students and staff were forced into quarantine in some states. Some classrooms even returned to online learning temporarily.

It could happen again.

There’s been no slowing in the circulation of virus in most communities across the country, with the Delta variant causing more than 98% of all infections nationwide. 

Therefore, the risk of Covid-19 outbreaks again within schools this week appears to be the same unless schools put mitigation measures in place, Dr. Tina Tan, a professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and a former board member for the Infectious Diseases Society of America, told CNN.

“One thing we saw earlier in the month of August is that there were many schools that opened but didn’t have mask mandates in place and were not using protective mitigation protocols, and we saw a number of outbreaks that happened in those situations where the school opened and then closed like a week later because there were so many teachers and students that got infected,” Tan said.

“It is hoped that when schools open after Labor Day, that these people will be smarter and they’ll have mask mandates in place and use protective mitigation protocols in order to prevent the potential to have future outbreaks occur in the school setting,” she said. “We know that there are going to be cases that occur, but there are methods to decrease the number of potential cases that might occur.” 

The chances of a school staying open safely amid the ongoing pandemic do not just depend on what mitigation measures the school has in place – but also how much coronavirus spread is in the surrounding community and whether the community practices mitigation strategies, Noelle Ellerson Ng, associate executive director of advocacy and governance for the School Superintendents Association, told CNN.

“It is about the decisions the schools are making, and whether or not they’re going to be able to do any physical or social distancing, or whether or not they have masks in place. But schools are a microcosm of the broader community too,” Ng said. “What’s your vaccination rate in the eligible population? What is the general practice of broader mitigation strategies in the community? All of that is interrelated. The work of opening schools doesn’t occur in a silo.”

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