A COVID Delta Wave Begins… and then Schools Reopen

July 28, 2021

Just when it looked like America could see the end of COVID-19, infections from the delta variant began to rise. Cases are expected to surge and most K-12 schools are about to reopen for the new school year, although children younger than 12 cannot be vaccinated yet. USC experts discuss what risk children have, when we could — if ever — see an end to COVID and what parents and schools should consider to limit the spread.

Editors: This is the first of two releases featuring experts on COVID-19 and the delta variant. 

Contact: Emily Gersema, gersema@usc.edu or (213) 712-3168

Schools already require vaccinations. Other employers should, too.

This week, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and several hospitals announced their workers must be vaccinated.

Karen Mulligan, a fellow at the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and& Economics, called it the right move.

“If employers want to operate reliable in-person workplaces and attract customers, they will have to embrace a solution that the government has so far shied away from: vaccine mandates. Higher education and health care providers are already leading the way,” said Mulligan, who also is an assistant professor at the USC Price School of Public Policy.

“Political objections have kept the federal government and states from imposing a nationwide vaccine mandate so far. In fact, legislation and executive orders limiting vaccination requirements have been signed by state governors in Alabama, Florida, Texas and elsewhere. However, state laws that prohibit vaccination mandates will prove unenforceable as they increasingly conflict with the policies of large private employers.”

• Mulligan recently co-authored a white paper on the public policy implications, feasibility and effectiveness of vaccine mandates.

Contact: karenmul@usc.edu


What’s the best line of defense for parents and schools?

“We have a very safe, highly effective intervention called vaccination, and we are falling short on making sure that we’re really using it. Schools should require workers there to be vaccinated.

“Parents sending their children to camp should send them to places where the people are vaccinated. In general, kids are much less likely to get sick and less likely to have serious complications and be hospitalized or die from COVID, so we can reduce parental anxiety about the consequences. It’s a privilege to provide child care. As part of that privilege, caregivers should get vaccinated or have prior evidence of infection.”Jeffrey Klausner is a clinical professor of population and public health sciences and an investigator for the COVID Center for Pandemic Research at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

He added:

  • Keep areas well-ventilated when it makes sense and is feasible to have airflow.
  • Continue testing programs in places where some people refuse to be or cannot be vaccinated.
  • Ask about the vaccination status of caregivers.
  • Encourage mask use among children in places where vaccinations are not required of employees or in crowded, poorly ventilated indoor settings.
  • Follow local public health guidelines.

Contact: jdklausner@med.usc.edu

What will schools do when outbreaks occur?

“Schools have demonstrated that they are able to successfully stay open even when someone tests positive on campus. They adhere to the contact tracing and quarantine protocols in place that we know are effective.”

“We have seen the dire impact of school closures on students and families, and we each need to do our part to ensure that everyone stays safe and healthy. That means getting a vaccine if you are eligible and wearing a mask indoors.”

Rita Burke is an assistant professor of clinical preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and an expert in public health responses to disasters.

Contact: rita.burke@med.usc.edu


When will the spike in COVID delta cases end?

“It’s difficult to predict new waves, but a model from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington shows we may see cases increase until about mid- to late September. The surge may further accelerate as schools reopen.

“Remember, one person can infect six or seven people. You would really have to live under a rock to not be exposed to this virus at some point. And we are only at delta; we are not very far into the Greek alphabet with this virus yet. It’s hard to know if we will ever suppress the virus on a global scale.

“Research shows that there is a slight bias for the disease to become less severe over time. The problem, of course, is that we don’t really know what the long-term effects will be, ranging from chronic fatigue to cardiovascular issues. The virus might adapt by causing less severe symptoms but longer-term effects, as we have seen in the cases of the long haulers.”

Jakub Hlávka
is a research assistant professor at the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics.


Contact: jakub.hlavka@usc.edu