OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Students are returning from winter break and some school districts are already reporting COVID cases.
Westside is reporting 52 cases in students and 23 cases among staff. Elkhorn is reporting 82 active cases.
Amid the rising cases, and the highly transmissible omicron variant, educators are calling on area city councils to implement mask mandates. On Thursday, presidents of six area education associations including Bellevue, Millard, Omaha, Papillion La Vista, Ralston and Westside, joined together to publish a letter, saying "we need strong mitigation efforts that impact the entirety of our community, not just our school districts."
Tim Royers, President of the Millard Education Association says the worry is in the ability to keep schools open.
"It shouldn’t be left up to individual districts to determine this in the the first place. We need to have consistent response to the pandemic in order for us to get in under control," Royers said. "The pandemic doesn’t operate in school district boundaries, it’s going to be throughout the whole community. If one part of the community is doing one thing and another is doing another then we all send to suffer from it."
Royers said a number of factors contributed to their decision. Difficulty finding a test and work shortages were just a few of them.
Doctors mirror similar concerns, saying numbers are just going to spike.
"We’re in for a few weeks of this explosive growth likely, and given the infectivity of the virus and the school environment, I'd be shocked if we don’t have more than half to three-quarters of kids in the school environment infected at the end of this wave," Dr. James Lawler, an infectious diseases physician at Nebraska Medicine said.
Lawler says we need a layered approach to curb the spread, including social distancing, maximizing air ventilation, regular surveillance testing and limiting indoor gatherings.
"You cannot control transmission of this virus in a school setting without all those preventative measures in place, its impossible," Lawler said.
Doctors say students should be wearing masks, even if they are not required.
"Whether or not your school is requiring your child to wear masks, your child should be wearing a mask. Whether they’ve been vaccinated, whether they’ve had an infection — right now our rates are so high, there’s no good reason to not wear a mask when you're going to be around other people," Dr. Melissa St. Germain, Vice President and Medical Director of Children's Physicians said.
Dr. St. Germain suggests that everyone eligible for a vaccine should get vaccinated.
3 News Now reported on this story when it was breaking here.
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