Thousands of students across the nation are already in quarantine amid COVID-19 outbreaks just days into the new school year.
The alarming numbers are emerging amid soaring cases of the delta variant of COVID, particularly in states with low vaccination rates, and where governors and state legislatures have banned mask mandates.
A review of local media reports by The Washington Post found that more than 10,000 students and staff members across 14 states have been exposed to the coronavirus since school started.
Close to 4,400 students in Mississippi — where Gov. Tate Reeves (R) has refused to issue a mask mandate — have been quarantined after at least 800 tested positive for COVID at the start of the school year. One district in the state suspended all in-person teaching after ordering 40% of its total student population into quarantine.
More than 1,000 students in Palm Beach County, Florida, were also sent home to quarantine by the end of the first week of school on Friday after 134 cases of COVID were detected, CBS News reported.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has banned mask mandates at public schools. As for the delta variant, DeSantis said earlier this week that Floridians just have to “deal with” it without mandated safety precautions, even as this strain of the disease is infecting far more children and more seriously.
Palm Beach County schools Superintendent Michael Burke told MSNBC: “The governor’s got to take responsibility for establishing the ground rules we’re operating under. This ability for families to opt out [of masks] is leading to more cases, which is ultimately going to send more kids home and deprive them of the typical classroom experience.”
Two teachers and a teacher’s assistant died of COVID in less than 24 hours this week in Broward County, Florida, before classes began. None of them were vaccinated, according to a union official. Broward officials have defied DeSantis to mandate masks in its schools. The county school year is set to begin next Wednesday.
In New Orleans, which has a mask mandate for public schools, 638 students were quarantined after the first week of school.
Krenshaw County Schools in South Carolina — which bars mask mandates — quarantined 600 students after 130 COVID cases. “Maybe if they could probably wear masks, maybe that might help,” one Krenshaw parent told WLTX News 19.
A Reno parent sent their child to school this week even after the student tested positive for COVID — and 80 others were exposed. A county representative told the Reno Gazette Journal that exposed, unvaccinated students must now stay home until Aug. 20.
Marion school officials pleaded with state lawmakers early this month to reverse their ban on mask mandates. “Basically, [we] got little if any positive response. I’m not sure many of those folks were listening,” Marion School District Superintendent Greg Fenter told WREG-TV Wednesday.
Last week, an Arkansas court refused to uphold the ban. Days later, the Marion school board unanimously voted to require the protective coverings for all staff and students.
“If we had masks on our students and our faculty from day one, instead of having 1,200 quarantines, we would have experienced roughly 100,” Fenter estimated.