The Week in COVID & Education Policy: 32% Jump in Child Cases, How Omicron Could Affect Schools, Zero Reports of Heart Inflammation Among Grade-Schoolers & More

This is our weekly briefing on how the pandemic is shaping schools and education policy, vetted, as always, by AEI Visiting Fellow John Bailey. Click here to see the full archive. Get this weekly roundup, as well as rolling daily updates, delivered straight to your inbox — sign up for The 74 Newsletter.

‘Startling’ Increase in COVID-19 Among Children: State Data Report from American Academy of Pediatrics

  • As of Nov. 18, almost 6.8 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic.
  • Last week, nearly 142,000 child cases were added, an increase of about 32% from two weeks ago.
  • For the 15th week in a row, child COVID-19 cases total above 100,000.
  • “Dr. Janet Woodcock, the acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said hospitalizations and deaths among 5- to 11-year-olds were ‘really startling,’” The New York Times reports.
  • “At the end of October, about 8,300 American children ages 5 to 11 have been hospitalized with COVID and at least 172 have died, out of more than 3.2 million hospitalizations and 740,000 deaths overall, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
American Academy of Pediatrics

December 3, 2021 — The Big Three

The Real Risk of Heart Inflammation to Kids is from COVID-19 — Not the Vaccine: Via National Geographic

  • A “review of more than two dozen articles in peer-reviewed medical journals, government documents, and interviews with 10 pediatric cardiologists and pediatricians offer a reassuring picture of the safety of pediatric COVID-19 vaccination.”
  • “For starters, one to three cases of myocarditis per 100,000 children and teens typically occur each year unrelated to COVID-19, explains Jennifer Su, director of heart failure and cardiomyopathies at the Heart Institute of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Still, researchers estimate that risk is 36 times higher in children under 16 who have had COVID-19, she says.”
  • “No reports of myocarditis after the vaccine have been reported so far in children under 12 — the age group at highest risk for [multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children].”
  • “The likelihood that vaccine-caused myocarditis will significantly affect kids’ lives long-term is ‘just infinitesimally small compared to your risk of getting really sick from COVID,’ Su says. ‘Unfortunately, in this phase of the pandemic, I think the choice is not really to get vaccinated or not, the choice is would you rather get COVID or get the vaccine.’”
(Michael Loccisano / Getty Images)

NYC Schools Bought Weaker Air Purifiers. Now, Underventilated Campuses Are More Prone to COVID Cases: Via Gothamist

  • “The New York City public schools that rely solely on open windows and portable air purifiers have seen 23% more COVID-19 cases per students and a 29% increase in staff case rates when compared to buildings with stronger ventilation, such as HVAC systems, according to a new WNYC/Gothamist investigation.”
  • “To reveal these trends, WNYC/Gothamist used COVID-19 case data that city officials are required to deliver daily to the New York State Department of Health. (Parents can find this data via the state’s COVID-19 report card.)”
  • “Our team then matched those case records from NYC school facilities against building surveys collected by the city’s education department — which provide classroom-by-classroom details on ventilation infrastructure.”
  • They also released a GitHub with the data.

FDA Authorizes and CDC Recommends Boosters for All Adults: FDA statement and CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices panel’s unanimous endorsement of Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 boosters for all U.S. adults.

  • On Nov. 29, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention modified its recommendation to include all adults: “The recent emergence of the Omicron variant (B.1.1.529) further emphasizes the importance of vaccination, boosters and prevention efforts needed to protect against COVID-19,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

Omicron Variant

B.1.1.529 (Omicron)

The World Health Organization called an emergency meeting last Friday to discuss a new coronavirus variant (B.1.1.529) first identified in South Africa and Botswana that is believed to be spreading faster than previously thought. WHO assigned it the name Omicron and classified it as a Variant of Concern.

Cases: 379 confirmed cases in 32 countries

First Detected in South Africa

The AP reports that South Africa saw just over 200 new confirmed cases per day in recent weeks, but then saw the number of new daily cases jump to 2,465. Scientists studied virus samples to better understand what was driving the surge of cases and discovered the new variant. South Africa’s Centre for Epidemic Response & Innovation notes that in less than two weeks, it now makes up 75% of all infections. “Children under the age of 2 account for about 10% of total hospital admissions in the Omicron epicenter Tshwane in South Africa.”

The Financial Times visualizes it this way:

Why Are Scientists Concerned?

The variant has more than 50 mutations, including 32 in the spike protein, which the Times of London describes as “the tool a virus uses to enter cells, and the part of it our vaccines are trained to spot.” The 32 mutations means it “would look different to our immune system and behave differently when attacking a body.” A virologist at Imperial College said it was a “horrific spike profile.” Katelyn Jetelina says, “This is an insane amount of change. As a comparison, Delta had nine changes on the spike protein.” Jeffrey Barrett, who leads the COVID-19 genomics initiative at the Sanger Institute, breaks down the mutations. Mia Malan also provides a helpful analysis on Twitter.


Vaccines Could Provide Some Protection:

  • Via The Wall Street Journal: “Based on current knowledge about the mechanisms behind the vaccines and the biology of variants, Dr. Sahin (co-founder of BioNTech) said he assumed that immunized people would have a high level of protection against severe disease even if infected by the Omicron variant.”
  • The New York Times says, “vaccines are expected to provide some protection against Omicron because they stimulate not only antibodies but immune cells that can attack infected cells. … Mutations to the spike protein do not blunt that immune-cell response.”

Pfizer and Moderna: Are studying the new variant and developing responses.

We Can Prevail Over Omicron. We Just Need to Use the Tools We Have: Great op-ed in The Guardian by Eric Topol.

Patience Is Crucial: Why we won’t know for weeks how dangerous Omicron is, via Science.

Federal Updates

Treasury: Released a highlight report describing how states and communities are using their portion of the $350 billion Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds. A few interesting examples:

  • Delaware “intends to invest at least $80 million to achieve universal broadband access, becoming the first state to close every last mile of connectivity statewide.”
  • Maryland: “Each county board of education, including Baltimore City, shall: provide tutoring and supplemental instruction for public school students in grades 4 through 12 to address learning loss from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on education; establish and implement a summer school program for public school students.”
  • Minnesota: “The primary goal of these funds is to support summer programming that will support academic enrichment and mental health starting in summer 2021 for students, families, educators, communities and schools across Minnesota.”

States Still Waiting on Ed Department Guidance to Restart School Accountability: Via The 74

City & State News


Illinois: Chicago Public Schools launched a test-to-stay pilot, allowing some students to test their way out of COVID-19 quarantine. More via Chalkbeat.


North Carolina: A new High Point University Poll found 74% of adults think the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted the academic growth of school-age children.

Pennsylvania: The Philadelphia School District has nearly 1,900 vacant positions. That’s so many that about 50 staffers from the district’s administrative offices will leave their posts to answer phones, teach classes and monitor cafeterias in a handful of schools that Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. has deemed “in crisis with staffing.”

Tennessee: The state will spend $200 million to initiate a three-year tutoring project called Tennessee Accelerating Literacy and Learning Corps (TN ALL Corps), serving 150,000 students in either math or English language arts in 79 districts.

COVID-19 Research

FDA Advisory Panel Narrowly Recommends Authorization of First Antiviral Pill to Treat COVID: Stat covers Tuesday’s FDA advisory meeting on Merck’s Molnupiravir:

  • “During the panel, discussions frequently turned to whether or not panelists trusted the effectiveness data on the drug, even when they were discussing other topics.”
  • “Concerns have also been raised about whether molnupiravir, which works by inhibiting the ability of the virus to replicate its DNA, might cause birth defects or even long-term effects from damaging patients’ DNA, potentially causing long-term harms like cancer. Both Merck and FDA scientists said such outcomes were unlikely for a medicine that would only be taken for only five days, although they faced tough questions from panelists about the specific animal studies that indicated the treatment was safe.”
  • The vote: “Do known/potential benefits outweigh known/potential risks in treatment of mild-moderate COVID-19 in adults within 5 days of symptom onset and at high risk of severe COVID19, including hospitalization or death?” Yes: 13; No: 10; Abstain: 0

How to Get Parents on Board with Vaccinating Kids: John Bailey in Real Clear Policy

History Shows that a School COVID Vaccine Mandate Could Require Exemptions: Elena Conis in the Washington Post.

COVID-19 Vaccines for Children: Exploring Immunization Strategies for Individuals Under 12: Great set of resources from National Governors Association.

Pfizer: Submitted a request to the FDA to expand emergency use authorization of a booster dose to include 16- and 17-year-olds.

COVID-19 Vaccination Cuts Infection Risk by Half in School-Aged Children: Imperial College London study: “Those aged 12-17 who had received a single Pfizer/BioNTech dose had around a 56% lower risk of infection compared to unvaccinated children. The risk was even lower for symptomatic infection, at around 68%.”

We Don’t Need Universal Booster Shots. We Need to Reach the Unvaccinated: Argue three FDA officials in this Washington Post oped.


Why I’m Backing Charter Schools: Michael Bloomberg in The Wall Street Journal

  • “Instead of giving students the skills they need to succeed in college or in a trade, the public education system is handing them diplomas that say more about their attendance record than their academic achievement. This harms students, especially those from low-income families.”
  • “Charters, which generally don’t operate under union contracts, also have more flexibility to manage staffing, curriculum, testing and compensation. This allows them to create a culture of accountability for student progress week to week that many traditional public schools are missing.”
  • “To begin meeting the demand for charters, Bloomberg Philanthropies is launching a five-year, $750 million effort to create seats for 150,000 more children in 20 metro areas across the country.”
  • More details from The 74

What U.S. Mayors Are Really Worried About: “A survey of 126 mayors reveals that city leaders are more concerned about the long-term mental health consequences of the pandemic than other headline-grabbing issues.

  • “52% of the mayors surveyed cited mental health and trauma as one of two long-term consequences of the pandemic they were most concerned about.”
  • “37% cited the toll on students who lost more than a year of in-person schooling.”
  • “A historic infusion of $350 billion in aid to state and local governments through the American Rescue Plan has given mayors the chance to not only provide COVID relief, but also address these broader issues.”
  • But … “Only 2% chose education as one of their top priorities” for these funds.

How Child Care Became the Most Broken Business in America: Via Bloomberg

  • “Looking after young children comes with a litany of regulations to ensure the programs are safe. There are square footage requirements, zoning restrictions, earthquake preparedness plans, fire safety codes, CPR certifications, nutritional guidelines, rules about parking and outdoor space, liability insurance.”
  • “Child care in the U.S. is the rare example of an almost entirely private market in which the service offered is too expensive for both consumers and the businesses that provide it. This reality is reflected in two alarming facts: In most states, putting a baby in a licensed child-care facility costs more than in-state college tuition, yet the people who provide that care make an average of about $24,000 a year, less than a fast-food worker or janitor, even though 87% of them have some form of higher education. Every year a quarter of the industry’s workers leave.”
  • “All this adds up to an exceptionally precarious business model; according to a recent study by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the typical child-care center’s profit margin is only 1%.”
  • “Today almost 70% of children under 6 in the U.S. live in a home where all available adults work. Child care is so expensive — about 13% of the typical two-parent American family’s income and 36% of a single parent’s — it affects people’s ability to make a living.”

Parents Are Scrambling After Schools Suddenly Cancel Class Over Staffing and Burnout: Via NPR

It’s Time to Make Linked Data Work for K-12 Leaders: Chiefs for Change and Data Quality Campaign released a report that outlines how states and districts can track where students go after high school graduation to help design schools and programs that will prepare all young people to succeed in life.

No Extra Resources for Children Orphaned by COVID: Via Kaiser Health News, “No concerted government effort exists to help the estimated 140,000 children who have lost a parent — or even to identify them.”

…And on a Reflective Note

A Roller Coaster of a Year: Jasmine Gardosi was commissioned by the Literacy Trust to write a poem about the pandemic.

We Need Some Hope: So here is the Detroit Youth Choir singing “High Hopes” and the Color Music Children’s Choir from Ukraine performing “Something Just Like This.”

ICYMI @The74

A Half Century on ‘The Oregon Trail’: ​​How Three Teachers Created the Computer Game That Inspired — and Diverted — Generations of Students 

For even more COVID policy and education news, subscribe to John Bailey’s daily briefing via Substack.

Disclosure: John Bailey is an adviser to the Walton Family Foundation, which provides financial support to The 74.

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