COVID-19 is already disrupting the new school year for some students around the state, and it's creating challenges for schools hoping to keep kids in classrooms – especially in elementary grades.
Anderson Community Schools in Madison County has entire classrooms of children out for quarantine just one week into the new school year, and is one of multiple districts across the state already grappling with COVID-19 cases forcing kids out of classrooms.
Stephenie Mellinger, Madison County Health Department administrator, said with cases rising and a mix of approaches for the return to school buildings, it feels similar to this time last year.
"Our case rate and positivity rate is even higher than last year when we started," she said.
But there is one key difference this time around: the availability of vaccines.
According to the state, unvaccinated people in schools have to be quarantined between eight to 15 days if they're a close contact of a COVID-positive person. That means all elementary-age kids who are not yet eligible for vaccines are subject to the eight-day minimum.
On the other hand, vaccinated individuals don't have to quarantine if they don't show symptoms.
Mellinger said the rising cases and quarantine disruptions are prompting conversations among county school leaders about updating mask policies. But she said, vaccines remain the best way to protect eligible individuals from severe illness, and protect children who can't get vaccinated yet.
"Vaccine is where we're going to get to protect those little ones who can't be vaccinated yet – we've got to get our adults and older kids vaccinated. That's going to protect them in the long-run until maybe it's approved for younger kids," she said.
Mellinger said the department plans to continue making the vaccine easily available by attending different extracurricular events, like Friday night football games, to make it more accessible for people in school communities.
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