In a few weeks, thousands of kids will return to in-person learning in the Golden Triangle’s public schools, and school boards/administrators want parents to believe that safety will be the highest priority.
As area school officials prepare for the new school year, they have relied on guidelines provided by the state’s education department for establishing COVID-19 practices and protocols. Those guidelines include reducing personal space mandates from six to three feet, along with changes to mask requirements even as the American Pediatric Society recommends mask-wearing for all students, even if they have been vaccinated.
While we believe it is wise for our local schools to follow state guidelines, we encourage our schools to take even stronger measures to guard against COVID-19, particularly the Delta variant that has shown a spike in cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks.
Children are, by a wide margin, the least vaccinated group of people in the nation. There is no approved vaccine for elementary school-age children, and the vaccination rate in Mississippi for children ages 12-to-15 is just six percent and 12 percent for ages 16-17.
Without the protection afforded by the vaccination, the most likely major outbreak of COVID is likely to begin in our public schools.
Data from the state health department shows that counties where the overall vaccination rate is less than 50 percent are particularly susceptible to outbreaks. The vaccination rate in Lowndes County is 32 percent while the rate in Oktibbeha County is 38 percent. Clay County’s vaccination rate is 33 percent while Noxubee’s rate is 37 percent.
Those numbers strongly suggest that more stringent requirements be established.
One measure would be to require all school employees be vaccinated as a condition of employment, something the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled was within an employer’s authority to require.
This, we believe, would send a strong message to parents that schools are taking strong measures to prevent an outbreak. It also sets an example for parents who may have yet to have their age-eligible children vaccinated.
Mississippi has had a great record when it comes to school vaccinations — a 99 percent vaccination rate since 2014 — that prevent Diphtheria, Tetanus, Polio, Hepatitis B, Measles, Mumps, Rubella and Chickenpox. As a result, those illnesses are virtually non-existent in our schools.
Required student vaccinations can only be mandated at the state level, and it seems obvious that the state should add COVID-19 to its list of vaccinations.
If parents are willing to sacrifice “personal choice” to prevent Mumps, isn’t it more than obvious that the same sacrifice should be made to prevent a virus that has killed 625,000 Americans and 7,500 Mississippians during the past 18 months?
Until the state follows that common sense approach, we hope our local school districts will do as much as possible. That means requiring their employees to be vaccinated.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.