POCATELLO, Idaho (KIFI) - School districts in East Idaho are in the process of updating their COVID-19 policies for the upcoming 2021-2022 school year, just as the CDC is now encouraging universal indoor masking for schools as the Delta variant poses a greater threat.
In light of the rapidly spreading Delta variant of the coronavirus, the CDC announced Tuesday it's recommending vaccinated people in certain areas of the country to resume wearing masks indoors in publc areas.
This comes as school districts across East Idaho are preparing plans to return to school this fall. School Districts 91 and 93 both told KIFI that they are still working on their plans for the upcoming school year regarding COVID-19 protocols.
But in Pocatello and Chubbuck, SD25 is taking public input on their proposed draft of the Roadmap for 2021-2022 school year, which you can view here. Comments can be sent to email@example.com. A policy will be adopted on Aug. 17 and school starts Aug. 25.
SD25 spokesperson Courtney Fisher presented the draft to the Board on their July 20 regular meeting, which included a flexible framework for the district to work with as the pandemic potentially changes during the school year. As of July 15, according to the draft proposal, the district is in Category 1 of 3, and the decision to change categories will be made with local health agencies and leadership.
Category 1 is for communities with low to no spread of the coronavirus. Standard operating procedures listed in the draft proposal for Category 1 include reinforcing good hygiene and cleaning practices, optional face coverings, and encouraging eligible learners and staff to get vaccinated.
D25’s draft proposal was created and presented before the CDC reversed its recommendation Tuesday that kids wear masks in schools this fall due to the rising COVID-19 transmission rates. Fisher was unavailable to comment on if the district would update the roadmap to reflect the new guidance.
Maggie Mann, the district director of Southeastern Idaho Public Health, called D25’s proposal a “reasonable plan” with good flexibility for changing situations.
Mann said SIPH backs the new CDC recommendations for schools, but says districts can take that under advisement and make their own decision on what’s best for their learners and staff.
“Especially because in elementary school, children are not able to be vaccinated, we support the CDC’s recommendation of universal masking in school settings,” Mann said.
It may be some time before children 12 and under are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, Mann said.
“As far as kids younger than 12, the latest we’ve hear is they’re hoping to have approval by mid-fall, which unfortunately is a little late for the start of the school year. But it is coming, they just want to make sure its been tested as rigorously as possible and that the vaccine is safe and effective for kids in that age group,” Mann said.
But for those who are eligible for the shots, vaccination rates have essentially stalled in Southeast Idaho, Mann said.
“Unfortunately progress has really stalled out, and I say that’s unfortunate because it really is the best tool we have for preventing further spread of the disease, hospitalization and death,” Mann said.
While most of the counties in district 6 have been in the minimal risk category for much of the summer, now Mann fears they’re heading in the wrong direction.
“The last week of June, we reported 25 new cases. This last week, we had 125 cases, so that’s a pretty significant jump. So unfortunately, some of our counties are flirting with the yellow or moderate level again,” Mann said.
In a meeting with hospitals around the state, Mann learned that more and more young people are being admitted to hospitals and intensive care units with the virus, which experts agree are likely predominantly sick with the Delta variant.
“In a meeting with hospitals today and the state medical director, they are confident (the Delta variant) is the majority of cases that we’re seeing in our state. They think it’s reflective of what we’re seeing in Utah, Wyoming and Montana,” Mann said.
The Delta variant has been found to be better at spreading from person to person, and seems to be making people sicker.
“It’s important to emphasize that the vast majority of people who are ending up in the hospital with the Delta variant are people who have not been fully vaccinated,” Mann said.
There have been break-through cases where a vaccinated person contract the Delta variant, but they are much more likely to have a mild reaction and not end up in a hospital, Mann said.
"Vaccines are the number one tool we have in preventing serious illness, so we just encourage people who have questions about the vaccine to talk to a reliable source like your regular healthcare provider," Mann said.
For questions about the coronavirus vaccines, you can also call the Southeastern Idaho Public Health District at 208-234-5875.