“I’m scared,” Watts told CNN at a vaccination event in DeKalb County, Georgia. “I’m not gonna tell no lie. I am scared.”
But that’s why Watts is getting the teens vaccinated, hoping it will keep them healthy and safe from Covid-19 when they go back to their Atlanta-area schools.
“Sometimes you’re going to have to take risks, sometimes you’re not. And right now, going back to school is a risk,” Watts said. “But I also want them to have their education.”
Like much of the country, Georgia is seeing Covid-19 infections climb. As of Friday, the seven-day moving average of new daily cases was more than 3,000 cases reported per day for the first time since early March, according to a CNN analysis of Johns Hopkins University data.
Georgia’s Department of Public Health said Friday the case rate had increased 204% over the prior 14-day period, while hospitalizations had jumped about 50% and deaths about 18% in the same period.
And Covid-19 can and does affect children, even if in fewer numbers than among adults, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told Fox News on Friday.
“More hospitalizations have occurred in demographics that are over the age of 65, but we are seeing illness in some kids who get who get Covid, and it’s illness at rates that are even higher than the rates of influenza,” she said.
Schools are also a source of spread for Covid-19, she said.
Watts — whose granddaughter goes to school in Newton County, about 26 miles east of Atlanta, and whose son goes to school in DeKalb — doesn’t see an issue with students wearing masks.
“Everybody should be used to it by now,” she said, adding that her teenagers will be wearing face coverings.
“With the vaccines, I think that would help,” she says. “I’m praying that it does.”
US goes back to school amid rising cases …
Florida’s Broward County Schools welcome students back August 18, while the neighboring Miami-Dade County Public Schools — the state’s largest district — will return August 23.
But it’s not just the South: Across the country, students are gearing up for yet another pandemic school year with their communities once again under assault by the coronavirus.
On Sunday, cases were rising in every state compared to the week prior, per an analysis of Johns Hopkins data. Cases were climbing by more than 10% in 48 states, 34 of had cases climbing by more than 50%. Nationally, the seven-day moving average of new cases was 78,600 cases reported per day on Saturday, up from about 12,700 on July 1.
… and a renewed mask debate
That makes masks an important tool in keeping people safe, and the CDC last week recommended that everyone wear a mask in schools, regardless of their vaccination status.
“Over the summer we’ve had numerous summer school outbreaks that have occurred when masks are not worn,” Walensky told Fox News on Friday. “Jurisdictions have had to close schools because there are so many clusters happening in the school system.
“So my primary goal is to get all our kids back in person, safely, for full-time learning, and to do so and to be able to keep the schools open to prevent those clusters from happening in school.”
Still, among the 50 largest school districts in the country, just 23 were requiring masks as of last Thursday, including the nation’s three biggest, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Others included Clark County, Nevada; Fairfax County, Virginia; Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina; and the Hawaii Department of Education.
Masks were optional in 20 districts, most of them in Texas and Florida, including Houston Independent School District and Dallas Independent School District. Three others were undecided, and four districts had not responded to CNN.
He also has said there will be no lockdowns, school closures or restrictions in his state.
In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine, another Republican, was taking a different approach. He told CNN’s Jake Tapper Sunday the state was encouraging masks since many students won’t be vaccinated but leaving Covid-19 mitigation protocols to local schools.
“We had great success last winter, last school year. We saw virtually no spread in the classroom when all the kids were wearing masks. So we recommend — strong recommendation to our schools — that they do that,” he said. “Now some will do that, some will not.”
The school had tested about 1,900 students and staff prior to reopening, Peter McKnight, the head of the school, told CNN Saturday. It was also mandating masks and socially distancing, among other measures. The school felt prepared, he said.
Vaccinations haven’t been mandatory for staff, but that’s under consideration too, McKnight said.
“This is certainly not what we expected for the start of the school year,” McKnight said. “And I know it’s not what our families expected either.”
CNN’s Natasha Chen, Kevin Conlon, Camille Furst, Maggie Fox and Elizabeth Stuart contributed to this report.