GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. — Public health physicians sounded another alarm Friday that the highly contagious COVID Delta variant could fuel even bigger outbreaks when students, teachers and staff return to the schools.
Adding to the concerns, there is no COVID vaccine approved for use yet for children under 12.
The Delta variant is not only giving new life to the pandemic everyone thought was dying, it’s also reviving protests against mask mandates.
Outside the Gwinnett County Public Schools headquarters late Friday afternoon, Holly Terei and other parents, along with their children, demonstrated against Gwinnett and other school systems that are reinstating mask mandates just as the school year is about to begin across Georgia.
“We do not co-parent with the CDC, we don’t co-parent with our school district,” Terei said. “These are our children, and we are more than capable making these medical decisions. At the end of the day, we do not feel that it is the school system’s right to impose a health mandate. That’s really what it comes down to.”
Terei and others are calling on the school system’s new superintendent, who just took office Friday, to reconsider the previous administration’s COVID safety policies, and allow mask wearing to be optional.
The Delta variant is so contagious and is spreading so rapidly through the population, hospitalizations are up 50% in Georgia in the past two weeks, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health; deaths are up 18%.
The spike in cases is even worse in Cobb County, according to the director of the Cobb Douglas Public Health District, Dr. Janet Memark. And Cobb is one of the school systems that do not require masks.
“This virus has been very, very smart and has really been outsmarting us, every step of the way, and it really is going after the unvaccinated,” Memark said Friday afternoon.
“Our case rate is now at 257 in Cobb County per 100,000 people for the last 14 days, and Douglas County’s up to 341 cases per 100,000. Our Cobb area hospitals are seeing more than a 300 percent increase in COVID patients, and in Douglas, it’s 13 times the lowest numbers that we had.
"And this is not the highest that we’ve seen, but it’s definitely making a trend upward," she said.
Memark is urging people, in schools and everywhere else, to get vaccinated if they can, and, for now, go back to wearing masks while the Delta variant is seemingly running rampant.
“We are in high, high transmission at this point. And most of those kids, and a lot of teachers and staff, are not vaccinated. So it makes perfect sense that everybody needs to mask up during this time. It is the unvaccinated that is truly in danger, right now.”
In Douglas County, where masks are not required in the schools, parents who are worried about the Delta variant are scrambling to sign their children back up for online learning.
A spokesperson for Douglas County Schools said Friday that phone lines have been swamped for the remote-learning Flex Academy.
And, according to the spokesperson, every parent who requests online learning for their children instead of in-person classroom learning will be accommodated as of the beginning of the school year in Douglas County on August 4.