AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — More kids are getting sick from the Delta variant than the original coronavirus strain, according to Amarillo Public Health Authority Dr. Todd Bell.
On Tuesday, Dr. Bell shared his concerns about kids and the virus as they prepare to head back to school. He also reflected on the Texas Education Agency’s recently released guidelines for the 2021-2022 school year.
The guidelines say that schools must notify local public health departments and the Texas Department of State Health Services about positive tests. However, schools are not required to do contact tracing.
“There’s going to be quarantines that happen. We already see that our transmission rate in our community is just skyrocketing. We’re going to see that continue once the school starts,” Dr. Bell said.
He also said he does not believe TEA’s guidance will change the coordination between the Amarillo Public Health Department and local schools.
“Last year, we did a really great job of being able to work with the school, and the school did an amazing job of working with the health department, and we anticipate that same thing is going to occur this year,” Dr. Bell said.
But, as a doctor on the pediatric floor of an Amarillo hospital, Dr. Bell said the level of concern heading into this school year is significant.
“I’ve admitted the same number of COVID positive patients to the pediatric floor so far this week than I did between October and March of last winter and spring. That’s in two days,” said Dr. Bell. “Having that many kids who are sick that are in the hospital, tells us that we’ve got really significant problems with COVID transmission in the community at large.”
An elementary school teacher in Amarillo ISD, Aaron Phillips, also shared his concern about heading back into the classroom.
“None of my students will be eligible for the vaccine. So, if the Delta variant shows up in my classroom, I do worry about what that can mean and the impact that could have on my kids for their long-term health,” Phillips said. “It’s frustrating that the state is kind of tying our hands in ways that we might be able to mitigate the spread of the virus and keep our schools open.”
Dr. Bell said while COVID deaths in children are rare and they usually bounce back, the potential spread in schools can affect entire communities.
“As much as I want to make sure that we take care of the kids and keep them healthy and safe, I also want those kids when they get out of the hospital to have a grandparent who’s still alive, and is going to be alive next month, and we want to be, making sure those kids have a parent who’s alive next month,” Dr. Bell continued.
A local parent, Travis Tidmore, said he was worried about his family.
“My wife is a teacher, my son’s in middle school, and then I have a daughter in elementary,” Tidmore said. “I’m not as worried about my wife and my son because they both been vaccinated, but my daughter is under 12. So, she can’t get the vaccine yet and so I’m worried about her safety in school.”
Dr. Bell said in the absence of mandates, the onus will fall on personal responsibility and parent choice.
“We can still get folks vaccinated, we can still encourage people to wear masks, we can do a lot of good hand washing. This is not something that we just throw our hands up in the air and say, ‘Well, it’s done and we’re toast.’ This is a call to action that we need people to be taking responsibility for themselves, for their families and making the right decisions,” Dr. Bell said. “When we think about the virus and what the virus is doing, I would encourage all kids to be going to school with a mask.”
He also said vaccinations, masking, and social distancing could mean fewer kids quarantined after positive tests this school year.