Back to School Amidst Omicron
CHATTANOOGA (WDEF) – COVID-19 infection rates have reached an all time high in Hamilton County. Despite the surge, public schools are open with no virtual learning option and masks are not required. “We know what we’ve experienced the last two years, that there has been tremendous learning loss for a lot of students that haven’t been in the classroom,” says Hamilton County school board member Joe Smith. The Hamilton County Health Department reported a record-breaking 1014 new cases on Tuesday. Though numbers are peaking, medical professionals say they aren’t seeing the amount of patients requiring hospitalization with this variant.
“So we absolutely have to keep our kids in the classroom and keep them safe but we know that virtual learning is not the answer,” says Smith.
One board member doesn’t think enough is being done to protect students and teachers.
“We want them in school learning but we want them in school learning in environments that are safe. And while we know that a great number of our staff are vaccinated and our students that could be vaccinated, the numbers aren’t where they need to be and by us not being able to take the same precautions that we did initially to mitigate the case increases and the exposures it just makes me nervous,” says school board member Karitsa Jones.
Currently the Centers for Disease Control recommends individuals stay at least three feet apart to protect against infection, but Jones says it is not always possible inside classrooms. “I do wish we had that option so in the event the numbers do get that high we are causing more harm than helping to our students,” says Jones.
In November, Governor Bill Lee passed a bill that outlaws schools from enacting vaccine and mask mandates. Schools can individually request exemptions.
The website for the Hamilton County Department of Education says 71 percent of their staff is vaccinated.