How Delta Variant Infiltrated Elementary School Classroom


An unvaccinated elementary school teacher infected with the highly contagious Delta variant spread the virus to half of the students in the classroom, starting an epidemic that eventually infected 26. a new report From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The unusually detailed work that has come with the reopening of school districts across the country is likely to intensify the debate about vaccination imperatives in schools. A handful of school districts, including New York Cityhave already disclosed vaccination requirements for teachers and staff.

Now that the Food and Drug Administration has given full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, others may do the same.

“The most important thing we can do to protect schoolchildren, especially those who are too young to be vaccinated, is to make sure the adults in their lives, including teachers and school staff, are vaccinated,” said epidemiologist Jennifer Nuzzo of Johns Hopkins University. , who were not included in the report.

The study was one of three new CDC reports focused on schools or children. In another study, researchers found more evidence that schools can be low-risk environments when they come together. a few precautions. But this research was done before the Delta variant began to spread.

A third report focused vaccination rates for teenagers. Half of 12-17 year olds have taken at least one dose The White House announced on Friday that a coronavirus vaccine has been found. But the new study found that vaccination rates for this age group remain highly uneven across the country.

Together, the studies highlight both how much scientists have learned about how to protect children in schools and how uncertain it has remained since the Delta variant has arrived.

The class outbreak occurred in May in Marin County, California. Neither the school nor the staff and students involved were identified.

The teacher first showed symptoms on May 19, but studied for two days before being tested. During this time, the teacher read aloud to a class of 24 without a mask, despite rules requiring both teachers and students to wear masks indoors.

All students were too young for the vaccine, which is only allowed for those aged 12 and over.

On May 23, the teacher reported that he had tested positive for coronavirus infection. In the next few days, all 12 students tested positive.

Marin Health and Human Services assistant paramedic and author of the report, Dr. “I thought I respected its contagiousness,” Lisa Santora said of the Delta variant. But his efficiency in passing the class “surprised and humiliated” him.

In the classroom, the infection rates roughly corresponded to the seating plan. Everyone in the front row tested positive, down 80 percent in the first two rows.

In the back three rows, only 28 percent of students tested positive. “If the teacher doesn’t have a mask, get behind the class,” said Edward Traver, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Maryland Medical Center, in a Twitter message.

Six students in another class at the school also tested positive for the virus. Cases spread from school to community: At least eight parents and siblings of infected students, three of whom were fully vaccinated, were also infected.

State health researchers sequenced virus samples from most of the positive cases and found that they were all infected with the Delta variant. Samples from at least 10 students in the two classes were genetically indistinguishable. The results showed that both grades of cases came from the same outbreak.

Researchers said the outbreak was caused both by Delta’s high contagiousness and by the teacher’s failure to follow recommended safety precautions.

“We need to make sure that both schools and individuals are working together to make sure we’re safe,” said Tracy Lam-Hine, an epidemiologist at Marin County Health and Human Services and author of the new report. “It can’t just be one or the other.”

In other parts of the country, the damage to the community could have been even greater. Marin County has the highest vaccination rate in California. The report noted that 72 percent of eligible people in the surrounding community were fully vaccinated, suggesting the high rates may have prevented further transmission.

In another recent study, researchers focused on case rates in Los Angeles County, where some students and teachers attended the school in person last year, while others did so remotely.

Schools opened for face-to-face education were required to take various measures such as symptom screening, masking, physical distancing and contact tracing. For most of the period between September and March – and especially during the winter wave – case rates in schools were lower for both teachers and students than they were countywide.

Results consistent with previous studies When schools combined several preventive measures, they found that case rates in schools were often lower than in the surrounding community.

Having personally returned to school this fall with a 9-year-old and an 11-year-old, Dr. “School is a safer place in many ways where young people can be, because it is so structured and supervised,” Santora said. .

However, studies on school reduction measures, including the report from Los Angeles, were done before the Delta variant began to spread. The variant is roughly twice as contagious as the original version of the virus and is currently responsible for nearly all infections in the United States.

It remains unclear whether the same kinds of measures will keep the variant under control in schools this year, and many schools have opened without the safety measures recommended by public health experts.

Siobhan Flynn, a first-year teacher at a Washington-area public school, is worried about classes starting Monday. The school where Ms. Flynn works uses a layered approach to protection that includes mask requirement, social distancing queues and random testing for students.

“The children need to go to school, but I wish there was more money and planning to open schools safely,” said Ms. Flynn. “Many people would feel safer if all staff were vaccinated.”

Immunization rates have been rising in recent weeks as Delta continues to drive a nationwide increase in cases, hospitalizations and deaths. But parents are worried about sending young children to school who are not yet vaccinated.

The FDA first authorized vaccines for 12- to 15-year-olds in May, and by July 31, more than a third of them had received at least one vaccine, according to a third CDC report. More than half of the 16-17 year olds eligible for the vaccine had received at least one dose months ago.

However, vaccination rates vary widely across the country. The researchers found that only 11 percent of adolescents in Mississippi were fully vaccinated, compared to 60 percent in Vermont.

An infectious disease researcher at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Westyn Branch-Elliman said in an email that she hopes schools will become more involved in promoting vaccine uptake for all eligible in the school community through things like vaccine clinics. to improve access and alleviate barriers in schools.”

Clinical trials of vaccines in young children are ongoing. Pfizer said the results should be announced in September.


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