An announcement Monday from Pfizer and BioNTech revealed that their lower-dose Covid-19 vaccine was found to be safe and effective in children ages 5 to 11.
The news is welcome to many as infection rates of COVID-19, particularly the Delta variant, have been increasing while a new school year has gotten underway.
According to a weekly report from Barron County Public Health, as of Monday, 273 new infections were reported in the past week, with 199 occurring in unvaccinated persons.
The age group most affected were people age 18 and under, with 77 infections.
“We know that anytime people are together in groups, especially inside, we are going to see more cases. The schools are no different. We also see spread at worksites, weddings, community events and church services,” said Barron County public health specialist Sarah Turner.
In the Cameron School District, there have been 37 cases among students and 20 cases among staff since the start of the school year, said Superintendent Joe Leschisin.
Barron district administrator Diane Tremblay said Tuesday that the district currently had seven students at home who have since gotten a positive COVID test and 34 students in isolation.
More cases are likely, but haven’t yet been confirmed through Public Health and the school district.
In Cameron, the majority of those are happening at the elementary level, with 23 cases among students and 17 among staff.
But infections are not happening in schools as much as they are in households, according to Public Health.
“To date, we have very few of our positive cases that are believed to be transmitted within the school system,” said Leschisin. “Additionally, as we saw throughout last school year, we are still seeing very few, if any, of our close contact quarantined students and staff turn positive as a result of the close contact. Unfortunately, we have had to quarantine many throughout the past year, but our data confirms that a vast majority of these individuals never ended up testing positive for COVID in the following days after their potential exposure.”
Many schools in northwest Wisconsin have closed for a day or more due to COVID-19, including schools in the Spooner, Menomonie and Mondovi districts.
Leschisin said Cameron schools have no specific case threshold that would result in closing, but rather that such an option would be a last resort.
“If warranted, we would try to isolate individual classrooms and even grade levels as opposed to an entire building,” he said. “Our efforts at this point are to keep our students in school as much as we can. This requires us to look at cases individually and to determine a plan based on individual numbers rather than group numbers.”
Masks are optional at local schools, an ever-divisive issue among parents.
At the Barron school board’s Monday meeting, town of Maple Grove resident Jon Ecklor thanked the district for giving parents a choice in the matter.
“I feel it is our own responsibility for our own health,” said Ecklor.
Another parent, Amanda Berg, of Wheeler, had a different take.
Berg, a registered nurse, said she feared the district’s lack of a masking and lack of adherence to other public health guidelines would ultimately result in closing of schools.
“What is the district doing—cleaning tables? This is an airborne droplet virus. This is not enough,” she said.
Berg said she was frustrated that the district was not as forthcoming as others with infection data and that it was shrugging off public health guidelines.
“Do what’s right, not what’s popular,” she said.
While serious illness in children infected with COVID-19 is rare, there is risk.
“Most children still have mild disease, although hospitalizations among children are on the rise nationally,” said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer and state epidemiologist for communicable diseases.
Recent deaths have been rare in Barron County, but hospitals are filling up.
Barron County Public Health announced Sept. 16 that it is prioritizing COVID-19 work but struggling to keep up.
Public Health stated: “Due to the surge in cases in our communities, Public Health operations are shifting. Barron County Public Health is back to working under crisis standards of practice. Follow up phone calls to people who test positive for COVID-19 are now being prioritized. At this time, phone calls will only be made to older adults, children and those who are non-English speaking. All others will receive a letter in the mail.”
“We know people who test positive have many questions, but unfortunately with so many cases coming in each day, it is no longer possible to call each and every case,” said Health Officer Laura Sauve. “Everyone who tests positive will receive the information they need. It just may now come in the mail instead of through a phone call. Our staff will follow up with those outside of the priority groups as time allows.”