School Is Starting. Can Children Stay Safe From Covid-19?

How to limit infections in the classroom. Plus, what the data shows about how the Delta variant affects children.,


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Siblings hugged as they entered Norseman Elementary school in Fresno, Calif., on the first day of class last week.Credit…Tomas Ovalle for The New York Times

This wasn’t how the school year was supposed to begin.

The Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest in the nation, and several other districts in California return to in-person classes today. But the relief and joy of this much-anticipated moment has, for many, been eclipsed by uncertainty and anxiety.

Amid an alarming rise in coronavirus cases nationwide, schools in Texas, Arizona and elsewhere have already had to close this month because of outbreaks, heightening fears among parents in California. In one county in the Atlanta suburbs, more than 700 students and employees tested positive for the virus in just the first two weeks of school, my colleagues report.

But experts say that though reopening does increase the risks of transmission, California classrooms will be among the safest in the nation. Here, masks are required and teachers must be vaccinated against the virus.

“We’re not seeing outbreaks when people are following the guidelines,” said Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, a pediatric infectious-disease specialist at Stanford Medicine and chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Infectious Diseases. “When people point out, ‘Look at this outbreak’ in this school or that school, it’s almost exclusively because they’re not wearing masks.”

Still, the reopening of schools comes at an unfortunate time. The highly contagious Delta variant is spreading widely in the U.S., and vaccines haven’t been approved for children under 12, leaving them especially vulnerable to infection.

But there are ways to help keep children safe. Experts told me that layering multiple safety measures can provide strong protection, a strategy sometimes called the Swiss cheese model.

“We have learned that in-person education is not something we can replace with virtual learning,” Dr. Neha Nanda, medical director of infection prevention at Keck Medicine of U.S.C., told me. “So, logically speaking, when we open, we want to make sure we have all — and I mean all, all, all — mitigation strategies in place.”

This is what works to prevent spread in schools, according to the experts:

The most important tool is vaccination. Anyone who can get their shots should, as it will protect them and people around them who aren’t yet eligible.

Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom mandated that all teachers and school staff members be vaccinated against the virus or submit to weekly testing. On Friday, L.A.U.S.D. officials took that further, requiring vaccinations by Oct. 15 for anyone who sets foot on campus.

Masking is also key. Whether a KN95 or a three-layer cloth mask, it needs to fit snugly.

A test to check whether it fits properly: If you wear glasses and they fog up while you’re wearing your mask, the seal isn’t tight enough.

Other effective methods for reducing spread: regular testing, ventilation, staggered lunches and physical distancing.

Many California districts are not requiring physical distancing inside the classroom because of space constraints. Experts say that masking and vaccinations reduce the need for distancing, but leaving space between students can further reduce chances of transmission.


After a year and a half of remote learning, eighth graders returned to in-person science class at Newark Junior High School in Newark, Calif., last week.Credit…Clara Mokri for The New York Times

Does Delta make children sicker?

A rising number of children hospitalized with Covid-19 nationwide has raised concerns that the Delta variant is particularly severe for that age group.

But in California, the approximately 18 children and teens being hospitalized daily with Covid-19 is lower than the 29 per day that were hospitalized during the winter surge, The Los Angeles Times reported.

The numbers suggest that what’s driving the record number of pediatric hospitalizations elsewhere is the sheer volume of people falling ill, experts told me.

Florida, Arkansas and other states with hospitals inundated with pediatric Covid-19 patients also have far worse overall outbreaks than California.

“The game-changer of Delta has really been this increased transmissibility,” said Dr. Robert Kim-Farley, infectious disease expert at the University of California, Los Angeles Fielding School of Public Health. “So it’s just that more children, more adults are coming down with the disease.” He added that it’s “not really that it’s necessarily that much more severe in children.”

For more:

The Biden administration is developing a plan to start offering booster shots to Americans as soon as the fall, my colleagues report. The first doses are likely to go to nursing home residents, health care workers and the elderly.

All of the 100 biggest school districts in the U.S. are fully reopening, but their safety precautions vary widely. Read more.

Doctors say that children who have mild or even asymptomatic infections may experience long Covid, a syndrome that can include potentially debilitating issues that disrupt their schooling, sleep, extracurricular activities and other aspects of life.

The father of an elementary school student in a town about 50 miles from Sacramento is accused of attacking a teacher because he didn’t want his daughter to wear a mask, BuzzFeed News reports.


Wayne Jones of the Mendocino Water Company delivered drinking water to the Alegria Inn in Mendocino on Sunday.Credit…Max Whittaker for The New York Times

The rest of the news


Covid and wildfires: Exposure to smoke during last summer’s wildfire season could be associated with thousands of additional coronavirus infections as well as hundreds of deaths in Washington, Oregon and California, a new study has found.

Dixie Fire: The fire that now ranks as the largest on record in the United States was 31 percent contained as of Sunday morning.

No More Lonely Friends: Founded by Marissa Meizz, the online community No More Lonely Friends schedules in-person meet-ups and allows people to make friends all over the country, from New York to Los Angeles.

southern california

Coronavirus outbreak: The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department has halted jail visitations after at least 73 people in custody tested positive for coronavirus, The Los Angeles Times reports.

Actor arrested: Michael Aaron Carico was arrested in Burbank last week on suspicion of being in the mob that swarmed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, according to The Los Angeles Times.

central california

Two winemakers, two stories: In the era of climate change, two vineyards near Paso Robles who farm conscientiously are having extremely different experiences; one thrives while the other struggles to survive.

Squaw Valley wildfire: A mandatory evacuation order was issued Sunday for MarLar Lane and Silver Lane in rural Fresno County because of a wildfire in Squaw Valley, according to The Fresno Bee.

Randy Paragary: A local legend of Sacramento’s restaurant and nightlife scene, Randy Paragary died on Friday, The Sacramento Bee reports.

Bakersfield parks: The Bakersfield City Council approved $6.2 million to put toward improving 19 parks, according to The Bakersfield Californian.

northern california

Mendocino water shortage: There’s a crippling water shortage in the tourist town, an extreme example of what some Californians are experiencing in the second year of the state’s drought. Century-old, hand-dug wells have run dry, and importing water comes with a hefty price tag.

The class of 2020: A new documentary follows Oakland High School seniors from their first day of school to graduation day, as they live through the pandemic and the George Floyd protests.

Megachurch offers vaccine “exemptions”: In an Instagram post, Pastor Greg Fairrington of the Destiny Christian Church in Rocklin said the church would be giving out “religious exemptions” for those who don’t want a coronavirus vaccine, according to The Sacramento Bee.

Baba Zumbi: Stephen Gaines, a Bay Area rapper who went by the stage name Baba Zumbi and was part of the group Zion I, died after a physical altercation at a hospital, The San Francisco Chronicle reports. The Berkeley police are investigating his death.

Caldor Fire: The El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office ordered evacuations on Sunday for a 1.5-mile radius surrounding the Caldor fire, which has burned 300 acres so far, The Sacramento Bee reports.

Census data: An interactive map from The San Francisco Chronicle breaks down demographic changes in the Bay Area using data from the 2020 census.

Oakland Athletics: The Mercury News profiles Samantha Schultz, an astrophysicist working as a pitching analyst for the Oakland Athletics.


Credit…Christopher Simpson for The New York Times

What we’re eating

Crunchy cucumbers and creamy avocados are the stars of this five-ingredient salad.


The Garden of Eden swimming hole in 2019.Credit…Angal Field for The New York Times

Where we’re traveling

Today’s California travel tip comes from Sri Muppidi, a reader who lives in the Bay Area. Sri writes:

I’ve been a lifelong resident of the Bay Area, and a fun spot to visit is the Garden of Eden in Santa Cruz. The Garden of Eden is a small swimming hole near Henry Cowell Redwood State Park in the Santa Cruz mountains. You walk by railroad tracks on the way to get there, and the water is perfect for swimming on a hot summer day. There’s even a rope swing to jump into the swimming hole. My friends and I used to come out here when we went camping or hung out in Santa Cruz.

Tell us about the best spots to visit in California. Email your suggestions to We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

Tell us

Whether you’re a parent, teacher or student, I’d love to hear from you about the first day of school.

Please send me a few sentences about your (or your child’s) return to the classroom, including your name, school, age and grade, if appropriate. Your response may be published in an upcoming edition of the newsletter.

Joy, anger, fear, boredom — I want to hear it all. Email me at

And before you go, some good news

For those of you in the Los Angeles area, the Griffith Park Free Shakespeare Festival is back, with showings of “The Tempest” through Sept. 5. Get tickets here.

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Greenish-brown eye color (5 letters).

Miles McKinley and Mariel Wamsley contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at

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