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CDC changes mask and school guidance as younger population becomes more infected by COVID-19

Published: Jul. 27, 2021 at 5:33 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 28, 2021 at 4:42 AM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Young people continue to get hit hard by the Delta variant.

Tennessee’s reporting more than 2,000 pediatric COVID 19 cases over the past two weeks and a major pediatric care provider in Memphis said positivity rates have soared into double digits.

In Mississippi, five percent of COVID patients hospitalized there are under the age of 19. The overall average age of those hospitalized has dropped by at least 10 years since vaccines were introduced. Now, those between the ages of 50 to 69 are the most likely to be hospitalized in the state, mainly due to herd immunity in age groups above that.

In Mississippi, the state health officer believes all cases are not the Delta strain.

Hospitals across the Mid-South are seeing a continued stream of children being admitted to the hospital with COVID-19.

At LeBonheur Children’s Hospital, there are currently three COVID-19 patients, none of which are in the IUC. Elsewhere, however, Arkansas Children’s Hospital report two dozen patients among its two hospitals with about a quarter of patients in the ICU.

Most cases don’t make it to hospitalizations, but even COVID-19 test rates are showing increasing cases among younger people.

Memphis Children’s Clinic has six clinics in Shelby and DeSoto counites. Over the last week,13 percent of its COVID-19 tests administered have come back positive.

“There’s special concern as to the young people this fall because with the Delta variant, we don’t know come this fall how it’s going to impact our young people,” Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) said.

In Arkansas, state law prohibits mask mandates at public school districts. Tuesday during his tour to promote the vaccine, Hutchinson encouraged parents of those 12 and up to get their kids vaccinated before school, but ultimately said it should be the parents’ choice.

Hutchinson released the following statement on meeting with the House speaker and Senate president pro tempore:

“I had an in-depth meeting with the Speaker and Pro Tem discussing a potential special session of the General Assembly. A special session remains an option as we look for specific ways to assist our schools as we prepare for the next school year. In the coming days, I will be evaluating options for legislative changes to Act 1002 that will give our schools more local control on meeting the health needs of the students as we enter a new school year in the face of the Delta variant. I will not make a decision on a special session until legislative leadership has an opportunity to discuss options further with their members.”

On the same stage, State Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero recommended families choose masks.

“They do work and we need to use them,” Romero said about masks. “It doesn’t matter if you have an N-95 or what. These masks protect children and they protect adults.”

As part of its change in guidance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is now recommending masks for everyone in schools no matter the vaccination status.

The largest school district in the Mid-South, Shelby County Schools, had already decided to require masks. All other Shelby County municipal schools and DeSoto County Schools are making masks optional.

“With the CDC’s new recommendations, we highly encourage our families to dive deep into that content and figure out what that means to public safety and our schools,” said Mario Hogue, Collierville Schools public information officer.

Collierville Schools released its plan less than 24 hours before the CDC change.

“They are going to change frequently,” Hogue said. “I think we really thought the worst was behind us and hopefully that is true. But we need to be mindful and willing to be agile.”

For now, Collierville Schools is still only recommending masks in its back-to-school plan.

Arlington Schools sent the following statement to our newsroom:

“Right now, our plan remains the same: for masks to be optional for all students, teachers and visitors on campus. We certainly encourage parents who wish for their children to wear masks to do so, and our schools will help assist families in those efforts. Likewise, employees may wear masks if they choose.”

In Shelby County, municipal public school districts in Bartlett, Millington, Germantown and Lakeland have all decided to make masks optional too. Action News 5 reached out to all those districts to see if the new CDC guidance will likely change anything.

Lakeland School Systems’ Superintendent Ted Horrell, in an email, said, “We do not have any changes to our plan or protocols to announce at this time.”

Millington Municipal School District’s Director Bo Griffin said, “MMSD will also wait to see what [The Shelby County Health Department] will do on this issue before making a final decision.”

A Bartlett City Schools’ spokesperson said this over email, “We are aware that the CDC is planning to release updated COVID recommendations. We will review that information as we continue to plan for the start of the new school year.”

Requests for comment from all other districts have not been returned.

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