The first day of the much-anticipated, in-person return to school for SY2021-22 looms for many families, friends, and educators in Fairfax County's independent, public and home-based education systems. The question of whether to mask up or not is now off the table given State Health Commissioner, M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA pursuant to §§ 32.1-13 and 32.1-20 of the Code of Virginia, issued a mandate in the form of public health order. He cited that the public health emergency due to COVID-19 continued to exist and required all individuals aged two and older to wear masks when indoors at public and private K-12 schools to inhibit the spread of the virus, as recommended and described by the CDC. Exceptions were noted in the Order.
Educators can now focus on student mental health, learning loss, credit recovery, and achievement gap mitigation, but only if learning does not unhinges due to COVID-19. Virginia Department of Health stated on its website, "Vaccination is the most important public health action to end the pandemic."
The Connection opened a discussion about the vaccine and education to those who walk the front line, educators, families, and alumni, to gain their insights while balancing comments with data and science.
RETIRED FCPS TEACHER Ron Goad urged others to get vaccinated. He was "appalled to know" some of his friends were vaccine-hesitant or refused to get it. He hoped that COVID vaccines for students would be the crucial panacea to keep schools open as the virus bears down in a fourth wave forecasted to increase in Fairfax County by the CDC.
Goad recalled the Salk polio vaccine , developed with March of Dimes funding. "I was just a little boy. My parents were very smart; they didn't question science. I remember seeing a sign on the back of a hearse that said, 'Get your shot or choose your plot…’ I think we've been too cordial and polite to allow foolishness to have a voice."
Karen F. (last name withheld upon request) is a retired FCPS teacher too. Like Goad, she recalled the Polio vaccine. "I was a tiny girl when Polio vaccines were required of all. I know my parents were married happier knowing I was not going to get Polio. Our freedoms come with responsibilities as well as rights. Given the threat of this pandemic, I think our responsibility to each other is greater than our individual rights just now."
Karen does not see the vaccine as an option. She has imagined the past two years through teachers' eyes. "As a friend of many FCPS students' parents, I have seen their struggles, too. I think I can get behind the plans for students to be vaccinated as a requirement," she said.
FCPS alumnus K. H. (name withheld upon request) is an uncle to students preschool to high school-aged, across the learning spectrum from homeschool, to private school to public school. K.H. said that he trusted the effectiveness of vaccines, that they would protect him and others against COVID-19 breakthrough as he works in Fairfax County. However, he held concern for his nieces, nephews, and all those students under 12 years of age. "I am concerned about the potential for outbreaks among children too young to get it [the vaccine], and if schools will be able to effectively control the spread while still giving children a worthwhile education," he said.
As the Delta and Lambda variants infect quicker and burn through the lungs faster, questions arise about the vaccine effectiveness. A preprint study found that the Pfizer vaccine during the Minnesota Delta variant prevalence in July 2021 showed a "more pronounced reduction in effectiveness" at 42 percent effective in the Mayo Clinic Health System. However, further evaluation in dosing and vaccine composition was warranted, the study said.
One person who responded sees COVID in a brutal light. She is a COVID-19 ground zero case, infected in March 2020. Taralyn Tharp Kohler of Reston, parent of a high school and college student, is "still experiencing long hauler symptoms including no taste and smell for over a year and a half."
"I do not wish on anyone what I've experienced. I want to trust that the vaccines will provide protection against Covid-19 and variants. My family has been vaccinated, and we are committed to continuing to do our part to stay safe and help others around us in this pandemic," Kohler said.
QUESTIONS have been raised about actions by wealthier countries, like the U.S. stockpiling vaccines and wondering if they are doing enough globally to vaccinate individuals in poorer countries. Mamta Murthi, World Bank's Vice President for Human Development, said Aug. 3 from her Washington, D.C. home in a podcast.
"The situation that we see right now is absolutely unacceptable because a large part of the world remains unvaccinated, and this is a danger for all of us… We could be in a situation where the pandemic is prolonged… We also run the danger of the emergence of mutations as the pandemic is prolonged and the virus circulates amongst newer populations. And this means that we are all at danger of being victim to a new mutation that actually escapes the immunity that is being provided by vaccines." Source: Mamta Murthi (@MamtaMurthi) / Twitter.
Finally, there is the question about additional FDA-approved and emergency use drugs for those who get COVID, no matter if they were unvaccinated or the virus broke through. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved only one drug treatment for COVID-19, the antiviral drug Veklury (remdesivir) for adults and certain pediatric patients with COVID-19 who are sick enough to need hospitalization. The FDA also issued Emergency Use Authorizations for several monoclonal antibody treatments for COVID-19 to treat mild or moderate COVID-19 in adults and pediatric patients, among them REGEN-COV for adults and pediatrics, according to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.
Abdul Rashid Abdullah of Herndon said that parents should be vaccinated in addition to their children if they wished to send their children to school. "You have to push for the entire household to be vaccinated; otherwise, breakthrough infections can and will occur. We have to get totally ahead of this virus. We either are all out Patriots and love our country, our children, and our communities and are ready to do whatever is necessary to protect them or not," he said. As a U.S. Army Veteran, Abdullah took his oath seriously when he said he would protect against “All enemies”, both foreign and domestic. "And this virus is yet another enemy. Just like the ignorance that we're combating regarding it," he said.
No matter the type of schooling students in Fairfax County attend, public, independent, home-based, and other, at the beginning of SY2021-22 remember: "We are a community connected. Stay strong. This too will pass."