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Thousands of Hawaiʻi Students Return to School as COVID-19 Cases Spike

A classroom at Kawananakoa Middle School. Once school starts, each table will have two seats. Students will sit at opposite ends of the table to maintain social distancing.

Most of Hawaiʻi's 180,000 public school students return to classrooms this week as the state continues to report over 300 new COVID-19 cases each day.

Dr. Libby Char, Director of the State Department of Health, says that COVID-19 case numbers will rise no matter when students return to in-person learning because of the large number of people gathering.

Among the many safety guidelines, students are required to wear a mask at all times when they are indoors or in a large group outdoors. They must stay 3 feet apart in the classrooms.

The health department last week said promoting getting COVID-19 vaccines for all eligible students and adults was its top strategy for in-person learning.

A Hawaiʻi State Teachers Association poll from February, which had an 80% response rate, showed that 70% of teachers had received at least one dose of the vaccine. Now, that number is estimated to be around 80%.

Osa Tui Jr., president of the HSTA, said he is concerned about students coming back to campus.

"With 25% of new cases being children, that is extremely worrisome. Our students under 12 have no way to vaccinate themselves, but we’re willing to send them to schools on buses and playgrounds while this extremely contagious variant spreads," he said.

Currently, Pfizer has the only U.S. vaccine authorized for children 12 years and up. Moderna expects the Food and Drug Administration to rule soon on its application for children in the same age group, according to The Associated Press.

Pfizer has said it expects to apply in September for children ages 5 through 11. Moderna said last week it expects to have enough data to apply for FDA authorization in younger kids by late this year or early 2022, according to The Associated Press.

For more information on back-to-school safety protocols, click here.
For more information on distance learning options, click here.

Zoe Dym was a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
The Associated Press is one of the largest and most trusted sources of independent newsgathering, supplying a steady stream of news to its members, international subscribers and commercial customers.
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