How to return to school safely as COVID-19 cases surge

Published: Aug. 5, 2021 at 5:36 PM EDT
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(CNN) - A coronavirus case surge continues across United States with the delta variant pushing hospitalizations nearly three times higher than they were a month ago.

And all this is happening as many students are preparing for a return to the classroom, so is there a way to make school safe?

The delta variant now accounts more than 93% of new COVID-19 cases. Deaths were up by 42% last week and hospitalizations are three times higher than a month ago.

“Think about what you can do and what those around you can do to protect yourselves. That’s how we stop this pandemic,” former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said.

As schools across the country prepare to welcome back students, there continues to be concern.

“Getting everyone who’s 12 years of age or older fully vaccinated before the school year starts should be number one on everyone’s back to school checklist,” said Dr. Nipunie Raiapakse, pediatric infectious disease specialist with Mayo Clinic Children’s Center.

Health experts say getting everyone who’s eligible vaccinated will also help protect those who are too young to get the vaccine.

“It becomes all the more important that we lean heavily on the other preventative strategies that we do have like masking, physical distancing, handwashing, in order to keep them as safe as possible,” Raiapakse said.

While recommendations for schools will vary based on changes in the pandemic and from one community to the next, right now more than 90% of the U.S. population lives in a county where people should be wearing a mask indoors, according to the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.

“I would not recommend a brand new first day of school mask because you want to really use one that they have worn before that you know fits well, that they’ll be able to keep on and that they’re comfortable wearing,” said Raiapakse.

Health experts say wearing a mask at school also provides a layer of protection against other respiratory viruses, which can cause symptoms similar to COVID-19.

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