Health leaders encourage parents to vaccinate children as the new school year begins

Thousands of students across the Mid-South have returned to in-person learning.

Shelby County School students are set to begin the new year in a week.

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“Parents, children down to age 12 can get vaccinated and that’s the single best tool we have,” said Lisa Piercey, MD/ Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Health.

Piercey encouraged parents to vaccinate their children if eligible.

“The school boards have the authority to make the decisions locally,” said Piercey.

Despite data showing there was a 204% increase in COVID cases in the last week, a rise in hospitalizations and a spike in the percentage of kids contracting COVID, the governor has no plans of issuing a statewide mask mandate for schools.

“There are a lot of school districts contemplating mask requirements. I will remind you that is a local decision for school boards and there really is not a one size fits all policy,” said Piercey.

“We have said, as long as there is more than low transmission wherever you are. You should have children masked in schools,” said Sandy Arnold, MD/ Lebonheur Children’s Hospital, which includes the entire state according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention COVID data tracker.

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“The vaccination rate is most likely low amongst kids in Shelby County Schools, which is why I’m glad they can out with the mask mandate ahead,” said Arnold.

Piercey encouraged school districts across the state to consider following the recommendations of the CDC, which asks students and faculty to wear masks regardless of vaccination status.

”We have had a 204% increase in the last week. We are in an upward trajectory and there’s no sign of it slowing,” said Piercey.

Dr. Piercey said more than 80% of all cases are the Delta variant. With those unvaccinated making up more than 90% of the cases.

”There are some indications this may slow down in a few weeks based on some experience overseas, but there’s no guarantee on that,” said Piercey.

Piercey added that the strain hospitals are experiencing is more because of a shortage in so much an overwhelming number of COVID patients.

”We did start the conversation with federal partners last week to see if they may have staffing resources. We will definitely take advantage of that channel,” said Piercey.

We’re told they do not plan on using the overflow hospital in Memphis because they have the physical space, just not adequate staffing at this point in time.