Students returning to school amid omicron surge in the Mid-South

Published: Jan. 3, 2022 at 6:27 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Students across the Mid-South are returning to school this week following the holiday break.

They’re returning amid a massive spike in COVID-19 infections primarily from the omicron variant.

Cases spiked dramatically over the past week, including among children. There are now over 3,600 active cases among children in Shelby County alone.

“My biggest concerns with the new variant are just the amount of infections it is causing,” said Dr. Jason Yaun, a Memphis pediatrician and the vice-president of the Tennessee chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Yaun says despite omicron appearing to be milder than delta and causing fewer hospitalizations, it’s important for schools to double down on what has worked so far.

“I think we still need to exercise caution. I think we still need to have that layered approach to prevention, which includes masking, distancing, hand washing, ventilation, all the things that we’ve been talking about throughout the pandemic,” said Yaun.

Testing is another important component.

Crosstown High School in Memphis tested students Monday due to a large number of exposures and positive cases over the holiday break. The school also delayed its return to in-person classes until Thursday.

Shelby County Schools also plans to increase its testing starting January 17.

But because of increased demand for testing, DeSoto County Schools announced it’s temporarily changing its absentee policy. The district told parents Monday to keep children who show symptoms at home while awaiting test results.

“If children are showing symptoms of upper respiratory infections, they should stay home at this point,” said Yaun.

Then, there’s the issue of masking.

Yaun says pediatricians like himself continue to recommend universal masking.

“At this point, when we’re seeing such high rates of transmission in the community, I do think that all school districts should be masking,” said Yaun.

The Shelby County Schools system continues to require masks.

The Germantown Municipal School District announced late last week it was reimposing its mask mandate due to concerns about rising cases.

Other districts like Collierville are not requiring masks for students, though students are encouraged to wear them.

Collierville district officials said dozens of teachers and staff members recently tested positive and dozens more were potentially exposed.

During an emergency meeting Sunday night, the Collierville Schools Board of Education decided not to implement a mask mandate.

Meghan Seay, the district’s coordinated school health supervisor, says the district is reimposing its mask mandate for its employees.

“Well, that’s important because we do see a spike in our staffing members and we want to make sure that we protect our staff and keep them healthy and protect our students. We also want to make sure we can keep schools open,” said Seay.

Seay says by requiring employees to mask up, and by reinforcing handwashing, social distancing, and testing, the district hopes to have a safe semester.

“We really want to, you know, see this through. Hopefully, this is just a blip, like it was in August, and we can get through this and bring everyone back in and have normal school,” said Seay.

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