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Back to School, Maybe

By Scott Hamilton, MD
July 30, 2021
Hamilton Blog Headshot Updated 12.21.21

Last October, the first school year of the pandemic was underway. A video began circulating of a teacher's attempt to lead her class on Zoom. On most of the screens, the children were barely awake, one still actually in bed fiddling with the sheets. Another is obviously sleeping, his head slack on the back of the couch. Then the horror we could have anticipated: a mom enters the background of her son's feed, half-dressed and looking for clothes in a closet as the child's teacher yells “turn your camera off!”

Back-to-school is different again this year. As I write this, schools are wrestling with what to do during this new surge of Delta variant of the Coronavirus. Will all children be required to wear masks? Who should get vaccinated, should they be required, and what age is safe? A-B scheduling? Will we have enough remote learning capacity? And what embarrassing scenes will children share on Zoom this time?

This summer we missed an opportunity for the school year to be normal. The community viral “load” was way down. Restaurants, bars and gyms reopened. However, only a minority of Acadiana took advantage of the vaccine, yet stopped wearing masks and distancing, too. People crowded into indoor spaces and July 4 celebrations. The Delta variant spread like wildfire in this hospitable environment. Normal: gone.

Want normal back? Want to protect loved ones, friends and neighbors from illness and death? Want your kids to learn in school live, where they can actually pay attention, get hands-on instruction and be with friends? Mask up. Distance. Don't give your kid's school a hard time about requiring masks, either. Stay out of crowds and minimize indoor activities. And get your shots.

One local priest had had it. A few Sundays ago he told the congregation in no uncertain terms that he was tired of burying the unvaccinated. Get your shots was his message—and he warned his flock to not bother coming up to him after mass to explain their anti-vaccine theories; he was also fed up with hearing moronic drivel from the internet.

Like we discussed above, we were almost back to normal. Restaurants, bars, churches and gyms were open. Kids were going back to school in person. Masks and distancing could be forgotten. Except most people in Acadiana didn't get why things were normal: masks, distancing and vaccination. And we missed our opportunity to stay normal.

While people bickered about their liberty and mask wearing, and whether the vaccine is safe, the Delta virus began picking off the unvaccinated one-by-one. Delta is a new variant of the Coronavirus, even more contagious and deadly than the original. In other words, it spreads faster and further, and kills more readily. Even worse variants may breed in these conditions with lots of susceptible hosts, like in India where Delta was bred.  Those hosts crowd together, breathe on each other, and aren't immune.

Again, here's the bottom line on the vaccine from me, a doctor who has met the guys who invent this stuff and knows the science. The COVID vaccine is one of the safest and most effective medicines ever invented. Sure, a few people get inconvenienced by some days of feeling bad after it. But, unlike the virus itself, the shot doesn't kill you. It doesn't affect fertility, or unborn children. It protects you from death, even from the Delta variant. As one health system CEO said, the vaccine is the light at the end of the tunnel.  Except, if you're unvaccinated, “that light is a train.”

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