MILWAUKEE — As students head back to class in Milwaukee, there is growing concern among health experts as COVID-19 case numbers rise in children.
More than 30,000 kids on the early start calendar at Milwaukee Public Schools are already in their second week back in class. In two days, that number will more than double as the regular school year kicks off. Health leaders says they are concerned about the highly transmissible delta variant.
"Back to school is going to be a challenge. This is not going to be the same school year that we had last year. The delta variant is extremely different than the virus we were dealing with a year ago,” said Dr. Ben Weston, chief health policy adviser for Milwaukee County.
COVID-19 cases have remained flat in Milwaukee County for the past few weeks, hovering around 268 new cases a day. But what is on the rise are cases in children between the ages of 12 to 17.
"When we look across the county at our positively rates, they are highest in three of our age groups. We break them down by school age groups. Grade school, middle school and high school seem to be some of the highest positivity rates in the county,” said Weston.
As of 4 p.m. on Aug. 31, MPS reported 18 new COVID-19 cases within the district. It brings the total number of confirmed cases to 236. A majority of those cases, 81, are in high school students. Although MPS data doesn’t list how many of those students are vaccinated, health experts say as a whole, eligible kids are getting the shot at a lower rate than adults.
"As I look at the numbers, the 12-15 year old age group is completed vaccinated at a rate of about 32 percent. So just under one-third of our 12-15 years-old are fully vaccinated. The next age group, if we look at the 16-17 year-old age group, that age group is vaccinated at about 41 percent. So about 4 out of 10 of the 16-17 year olds in Milwaukee County have been completely vaccinated,” said Darren Rausch, director of the Greenfield Health Department.
MPS does require masks for staff and students, and students have Plexiglas between their desks. Health experts say even with precautions, it is likely cases will increase at schools across the state, not just in Milwaukee.
"We know a large number of schools are opening tomorrow, on Wednesday, Sept 1, so we will start to expect additional cases of COVID-19 in kids, with more mixing and mingling of kids in school settings,” said Rausch.
Weston and Rausch say the best way parents can protect their children is to get them vaccinated. If a student is not yet eligible for the vaccine, they say wearing a mask and washing your hands is your next best defense.