Jessica Kirwan
As students return to school, activity at the Covid testing site at Fort Lewis College has increased with the spread of the Delta variant.

Kids are returning to school for in-person learning during a surge of positive COVID-19 cases, mostly driven by the Delta variant. KSUT’s Sarah Flower talks with San Juan Basin Public Health about schools reopening and how the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the vaccine may encourage more people to get the shot.

Story transcription:

Sarah Flower  00:00
Hi, I’m Sarah Flower with KSUT News. Today we are joined by Liane Jollon, the Executive Director of San Juan Basin Public Health for our weekly COVID-19 update. As schools are opening their doors for in-person learning across Southwest Colorado, some districts have chosen to make masks optional, while other districts have not. I want to talk about what this is like for parents that are dropping their children off in yet another semester of learning in a global pandemic.

Liane Jollon  00:30
Well, I think first of all, what we want to talk about is how important it is to our children and to our community at large that in person learning is available. You know, through this pandemic, we’ve learned so much about how creative and fast moving our schools can be if they have to be to allow kids to learn at home and allow kids to learn remotely. But we’ve also learned that in-person learning makes a tremendous difference. Our kids learn better, they form better relationships with each other with trusted adults, mental health and emotional health is better. And our society functions better when kids are in school because we rely on school so that parents can go to work, and we can get things done that we need to get done during the day. So as a community, we’ve got to come together and do the best we can to lower spread of infection, right now as our schools are opening.

Sarah Flower  01:27
It’s going to be interesting. You and I have not caught up since Durango 9-R School District has mandated masks as part of their dress code for the fall semester whereas other school districts that are in your district, La Plata and Archuleta County are choosing to have it be parents choice if they mask or not. This will be really interesting to see how this pans out in the weeks ahead.

Liane Jollon  01:50
From schools across the country that opened earlier in the summer than Colorado schools, the evidence is clear. Requiring masks, universal masking in the schools setting for all students and all school personnel and teachers is an incredibly important tool to limit spread of infection. All across the country the Delta variant has taken over, we’re finding that it is highly transmissible, it moves from individual to individual faster than earlier versions of COVID-19. And what we’re seeing in places where schools have opened, is that infections do go up, and unless masks are required, universally required in the school setting, we see a very difficult spread of infection that can lead to suspension of in-person learning. We’re really asking that our schools and our community members understand this and come together right now to protect our schools.

Sarah Flower  02:49
And we’ve never opened schools up where this Delta variant is in play during this pandemic. It’s just a crazy time to be a parent and feel 100% about sending your kids to school, without some worry of if they’re going to get sick.

Liane Jollon  03:04
I think what you’re touching on is for kids who are 12 years old and over, we do have a vaccine available. And this vaccine really helps ensure that kids do not experience severe disease or hospitalization should they be exposed to COVID-19. But the largest population in the country of people who are not vaccinated are really children. It’s anyone who’s not over the age of 12 that hasn’t been offered a vaccine is adding up to our largest unvaccinated group. And we just don’t have the same tools to offer to children to keep them out of the hospital and keep them from getting severe disease. Now we know that so far in this pandemic, children of younger ages have been absolutely less likely to experience severe disease or end up in the hospital, you know, compared to middle aged or older adults, right. We’ve seen that this tracks really well with what age group you’re in. But what we’ve seen with the Delta variant spreading as quickly as it does, and schools opening in parts of the country, we’ve seen the infection rate in that unvaccinated under 12-year-old population increase so steeply, that states have really had tremendous pressure, and in fact, in some instances reach their limit of what they have available in pediatric healthcare. We in Colorado do not want to end up in a situation where we have more children sick, than we have beds available for their care.

Sarah Flower  04:38
The Food and Drug Administration granted full approval of Pfizer’s two dose COVID-19 vaccine yesterday. Liane, is this a game changer for those that are vaccine hesitant?

Liane Jollon  04:50
Well, I think that there are people who really wanted to see all of the evidence and make sure that they were making a good decision for them, as individuals and good decisions for their families. So the FDA released the information about full authorization, and in this release of information, they provided information of exactly what they’ve reviewed and the thousands of pages of studies and the thousands upon thousands of individuals who have received vaccine, and what they’ve learned thus far, to then authorize this vaccine fully for the general population. So we think this is really good news that our federal agencies have come together and said, these are very safe. And this is a way through this pandemic. What we expect to see now that there’s full authorization, is more employers and more organizations requiring vaccine so that their staff members can keep each other safe, keep the individuals they serve safe, and keep the community at large safe. So the game changer is now that there’s full authorization, we do expect lots of announcements of different places where this vaccine will be required.

Sarah Flower  06:07
I want to switch gears here for a minute and touch on the booster vaccine that is now being recommended for for those that are immunocompromised. Let’s talk about that.

Liane Jollon  06:16
Yes, actually, the third shot for people who are immune compromised is considered a dosing adjustment. So what the FDA and then the CDC decided is that individuals and it’s a small group, it’s about less than 3% of the population that has specific conditions that compromised their immune systems. The belief is that these individuals did not mount an appropriate immune response from two shots, and they’re adding in the third shot to increase their dose so that these individuals can have the same level of protection as folks who are not immune compromised. So that’s the population that’s eligible right now for a third shot. And this third shot is available in any one of San Juan Basin Public Health’s, current vaccine clinics. So if you go to our website, you find one of our clinics, you can go in if you’re in this group of people, and get that third dose to improve your protection. The other thing that’s happening is the FDA and the CDC will be looking over the next month or so about adding in a booster for other populations. So as we learn more about that we’re behind the scenes planning to make sure that we have in this community enough capacity. So should that become recommended for other populations, everyone will be able to get their shot on time and have their immune system boosted by this additional protection.

Sarah Flower  07:48
Liane Jollon, Executive Director of San Juan Basin Public Health – anything else you’d like to add for us?

Liane Jollon  07:54
We are thrilled that kids are back in school, get your vaccine and while we’re in this Delta wave, let’s all mask up while we’re in more public indoor spaces.

Sarah Flower  08:02
Liane, thank you so much for your time today and for joining us here on KSUT for our weekly COVID-19 update.