Conway School Board - Kevin Richard

Superintendent Kevin Richard said he is awaiting guidance from the state on President Biden's vaccine mandate. (LLOYD JONES PHOTO)

CONWAY — The Delta variant of COVID-19 is impacting children at a much greater rate than previous strains of the virus. According to the Centers for Disease Control, child hospitalizations currently comprise 26 percent of all cases in the United States.

While childhood COVID-19 deaths are still rare, that number is increasing. As of Sept. 8, the last day numbers were updated, at least 520 Americans under the age of 18 have died from the virus, according to CDC data.

A CDC report issued Sept. 10 said unvaccinated people are 11 times more likely to die of COVID than those who are vaccinated. President Joe Biden last week unveiled vaccination requirements in the workplace that could affect as many as 100 million Americans. “We’ve been patient. But our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us,” he told the unvaccinated, adding that this minority “can cause a lot of damage, and they are.”

According to the president, all federal employers and all employers with more than 100 workers must require workers to be vaccinated or they must test for the virus weekly.

What that means to school districts in New Hampshire remains to be seen.

SAU 9 Superintendent Kevin Richard, who attended a superintendent’s meeting at the state Department of Education last Friday, said. “I’ve seen the headlines but not see the whole plan. We’re waiting for guidance from the state.”

SAU 13 Superintendent Dr. Michael Whaland attended the same meeting.

“I agree with Kevin — we’ll wait until a plan is a little more laid out and see what implications there are on public schools,” he said. “We’ll look for guidance from the DOE as it relates to public education.”

Last Thursday, the Los Angeles Unified School District became the first major school district in the country to require all eligible students (those 12 and over) to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Jan. 10.

“Our goal is to keep kids and teachers as safe as possible and in the classroom,” board of education vice president Nick Melvoin said in a statement. Students will be required to be fully vaccinated unless they have a medical or other exemption.

Though Richard said schools can’t ask if employees are vaccinated, he said to his knowledge, 80 percent of local school staff has received the COVID-19 vaccine. He added Friday: “Our unions have been absolutely wonderful. Their focus has been on bringing kids back to school. They always put the kids at the forefront.”

“The Conway Education Association continues to reinforce that we are trying to do what’s in the best interest of the students’, families’ and community’s safety,” Matthew Liebenow and Chris Bailey, co-presidents of the Conway Education teachers’ union, stated in a release.

“We are involved in the re-entry process and committed to working with the administration and local health-care professionals, to help ensure a successful and safe return to face-to-face learning, which we all feel is best practice for our students.”

They added: “We understand that students in grades K-6 (children under 12 years of age) don’t have the choice to be vaccinated yet, so masking provides an essential tool to help keep them all safe, along with other mitigation factors being put into place.

“As for the vaccination of teachers, we desire to keep classrooms open to in-person learning and understand that vaccines are the strongest tool to do that. We strongly encourage all of our teachers to get vaccinated.”

According to the state Department of Health and Human Services, as of Sept. 10, only 60 percent of all Granite Staters had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, while 67 percent have received at least one dose.

In Florida, a week before school was scheduled to start, four teachers in the Broward County district died from the coronavirus.

“Within a 24-hour span, we had an assistant teacher pass away, a teacher at her school pass away, an elementary teacher pass away and another teacher at a high school,” Anna Fusco, president of Broward Teachers Union, told local media outlets Aug. 13. According to Fusco, three of the teachers were known to be unvaccinated.

The Delta variant is also having a significant impact on unvaccinated children.

“What we’re seeing now is extremely concerning,” Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez, associate professor of pediatrics at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, said on CNN last Wednesday.

“This virus is really going for the people who are not vaccinated. And among those people are children who don’t qualify for the vaccine and children and teens who qualify but are choosing not to get it,” she said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics said, “as of Sept. 2, over 5 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic. About 252,000 cases were added the past week, the largest number of child cases in a week since the pandemic began.

“After declining in early summer, child cases have increased exponentially, with over 750,000 cases added between Aug. 5 and Sept. 2.”

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