Classes are back in session this week at many school districts, including at Chicago Public Schools. As the pandemic continues to evolve, this year comes with new COVID-19 protocols.
“The science is pretty much supporting all the changes that CDC is doing,” said Dr. Geraldine Luna, medical director at the Chicago Department of Public Health. “The reports of cases at school have been lower and we expect them to continue to be the lowest as we vaccinate children and send them protected to school.”
For parents of unvaccinated children wondering whether it’s necessary to vaccinate at this stage of the pandemic, allergist and immunologist Dr. Juanita Mora says, it’s not only still worth it, it’s safer than ever.
“We’ve now given millions of vaccines to children, and it is safe and efficacious. As we’re bringing down our guard, as we’re getting back to normal, let’s protect our kids and give them the vaccine so that they’ll have a wonderful school year,” Dr. Mora said. “It not only protects them, but also protects their grandparents, their community, our country because kids are often vectors of transmission and it’ll keep their schools open.”
2022 also brought a new health worry: the monkeypox outbreak, leaving many parents concerned about the virus reaching schools. Dr. Luna said the CDPH is optimistic it won’t become a problem for students.
“We haven’t seen children cases with monkey pox here in Chicago and that is something very promising,” Dr. Luna said. “The vaccines are now being rolled out. In Europe, we’re starting to see down sloping of those cases and whatever we see in Europe is later on reflected here in the United States. So we hope that the chances of seeing a child in Chicago with MPV are less than zero.”
Chicago Public Schools’ 2022 COVID protocols do not include universal masking requirements for students or faculty, but Dr. Mora said there are some circumstances in which parents might want to consider keeping their children masked.
“If someone is very immunocompromised at the home, then they might consider masking the child, especially for example, a grandparent who is undergoing chemotherapy or radiation for cancer or some or a brother or sister or a newborn child in the home as well.
Dr. Luna also urges parents get their children vaccinated for this year’s flu.
“Flu season is coming up now very quickly. It’s right around the corner in September and is very detrimental in children and the elderly, it attacks those two extremes in ages. So the important thing is to get your child vaccinated, consult with your doctor and get them protected,” Dr. Luna said.
The release of a COVID vaccine for children under 5 years old was hailed by some parents earlier this summer, but vaccination rates for that cohort remain low. Dr. Mora said she is urging parents of children under 5 to get them vaccinated.
“Especially now, they’re heading back into the nurseries, into pre-K, et cetera. We’ve given millions of vaccines in these age groups, myself included, I’ve given them to kids as young as six months, and they all have done well,” Dr. Mora said.
The recent resurgence of poliomyelitis in New York City has alarmed public health officials there, and Dr. Luna said Chicago’s Department of Public Health is continuing to monitor water systems here out of an abundance of caution.
“The last case reported in Illinois was in 1970 and it was a person that came from another country where polio is endemic,” Dr. Luna said. “We are as always making sure we’re checking our water systems. We’re checking surveillance systems that we have in place that have gotten much, much better now that we have this vigilance and surveillance systems in place.”