HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — As school districts shift their focus and plan for the next school year, many are choosing to loosen public health measures that were put in place during the pandemic.
“I think it’s fair to always say, well what’s the risk versus benefit of doing something,” said Dr. David Berger, Board Certified Pediatrician at Wholistic Pediatrics & Family Care.
So far, face masks are now optional for all students and staff at schools in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, and Polk counties.
“There is a fair question to be asked, okay when are we ready if ever? And it seems to me all things considered we’re probably there,” said Berger.
Many factors have changed over the past few months as school districts make decisions for next year.
“Of course there’s the concern of bringing things home to family members. Of course, family members have had the opportunity for a while now to be vaccinated if that’s what they choose to do,” said Berger.
While experts say there’s definitely still a risk for COVID-19 transmission in schools now that masks will come off, Berger says we have a lot of scientific data about the virus that we didn’t have going into the last school year.
Vaccines are the biggest development, even if kids under 12 won’t be able to get vaccinated before the start of school.
“Will there be cases of COVID that will go through the schools this year? Yes. Will most of the teachers who choose to be vaccinated, be vaccinated? And so that was our biggest concern last year, not that the kids were going to get it but that the kids would get it and spread it to a teacher or spread it to an older loved one or those with immunocompromised or other types of conditions,” said Berger.
While he says the risk for a COVID-19 outbreak in schools is low, there are still a lot of unanswered questions about contact tracing and what the districts will do about the cases that will likely show up in schools.
“Contact tracing is the way of stopping significant spread… How diligent will parents be with testing? How diligent will schools be with sending people home who have symptoms? How on top of it will pediatricians be in testing people who may or may not have COVID so they can go into the protocol of quarantine to stop the spread,” said Berger.