AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — As the contagious delta variant becomes the dominant strain of COVID-19 across the country, health experts are urging people to utilize what they say is the best line of defense against the variant: the vaccine.

With the start of school quickly approaching, there is a concern for a vulnerable group that is not eligible; kids younger than 12 years old.

“There’s going to be more kids that do get sick, and as we get more kids sick, there’s going to be more that ended up– even though it’s still a low risk of them ending up in the hospital; there’s still going to be a risk of them ending up in the hospital,” said Dr. Bell, a Texas Tech Physicians pediatrician and Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) School of Medicine associate professor.

Dr. Bell said it will almost be inconceivable that we will not see an uptick in cases once kids return to the classroom, but it will also depend on where our curve is when classes start.

“It’s going to be a little bit of a question is whether school starts at the crest of the wave, or do we still have room further to go up? My guess is that we’re still going to be going up, and it’s gonna be hard to sort out how much of that increase in cases is specifically because of school starting. That I don’t know, it’d be difficult to sort out. But we will see cases increase, just like we see in cases increase when we stopped wearing masks,” said Dr. Bell.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines when it comes to masking in the classroom, saying vaccinated teachers and students do not need to wear masks inside school buildings. The CDC is still recommending schools maintain at least three feet of physical distance between students within classrooms.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommending different guidelines, saying everyone over the age of 2 years old should wear a mask inside schools – regardless of vaccination status.

“Universal masking is the best and most effective strategy to create consistent messages, expectations, enforcement, and compliance without the added burden of needing to monitor vaccination status,” AAP said.

Both the CDC and the AAP are also highlighting the importance of in-person classes.

In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order stopping governmental entities in Texas, including public school districts, from mandating mask-wearing. That order took effect in June.

“Texans, not government, should decide their best health practices, which is why masks will not be mandated by public school districts or government entities. We can continue to mitigate COVID-19 while defending Texans’ liberty to choose whether or not they mask up,” said Abbott in a news release on May 18.

“It’s important for kids to go to school. This is not me telling people or telling parents that they need to keep their kid home from school,” said Dr. Bell. “School serves so many vital functions that we don’t want kids to be missing school, we want them to be in school, but we want them to be safe in school.”

So what is the best way to keep your kids protected while in the classroom?

Dr. Bell said it starts with parents getting vaccinated themselves, helping to decrease the risk of their children getting exposed.

The second tip Dr. Bell offered is parents encouraging kids to wear masks in places where there will be a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

His third point of advice is to be considerate of other children and other people.

“If we have a child who’s sick, or if I’m an adult who’s sick, I need to be tested. I don’t need to just assume that it’s allergies, and go on to school and potentially cause a complication for somebody else,” said Dr. Bell.

Dr. Bell said the risk for children ending up in the ICU is low, but they have seen it, even in Amarillo.

For parents who are still hesitant about getting the vaccine for themselves or their eligible children, Dr. Bell offered this advice:

“The things that we don’t know about COVID scare me far, far more than the things that we don’t know about the vaccine. I think that you have to be able to balance risk, I think you have to be able to look at it logically. And I think that if you do that, then you’re going to come down on the side of realizing vaccinations what’s best for me and vaccination is what’s For my kids.”