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This is the Coronavirus Briefing, an informed guide to the pandemic. Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.


Credit…The New York Times

Moderna said its vaccine retained effectiveness after six months, but booster shots would still be needed before winter because of the Delta variant.

France and Germany will give booster shots this fall, ignoring calls from the W.H.O. to send more doses to poorer nations instead.

The Biden administration plans to require most foreign visitors to be vaccinated.

Get the latest updates here, as well as maps and a vaccine tracker.

Back-to-school is already here

A number of public schools in Atlanta and its suburbs reopened today, ushering in the back-to-school season as the Delta variant surges.

Several school districts in the South will soon follow suit where Covid cases are on the rise, including Alabama, Texas, Louisiana and Florida. They will be an early test case in what is a near-universal push by school districts to bring back in-person learning after a devastating 2020-21 school year.

“Every school district that I speak to is planning for a full reopening,” said Dana Goldstein, who covers education for The Times. “But the Delta variant has definitely tamped down on optimism about a so-called return to normalcy.”

The decentralized U.S. school system means there are large differences among schools’ plans and virus precautions, like mask wearing, social distancing and vaccination requirements for teachers and staff.

Adding to the confusion, some states have banned schools officials from imposing mask mandates. But some school districts in those states are imposing mandates anyway.

With the highly contagious Delta variant, Dana said, “I think it’s not realistic to not expect cases in schools. So I’ll be watching how schools decide to react.”

One charter school in Georgia, which reopened last week, has already had to quarantine some 278 students, faculty and staff. The school had tested 1,900 students in the week before school started; masks were required, as were social distancing and regular temperature checks. But as of Thursday afternoon, 19 students and seven staff members had tested positive for the virus.

The White House, worried about lagging vaccination rates among young people, today unveiled a new push to get eligible students their shots. The plan includes enlisting pediatricians to incorporate vaccination into back-to-school sports physicals and encouraging schools to host their own vaccination clinics.

Parents, meanwhile, say they are facing a tough choice: send kids to school and risk infection, or keep kids home and jeopardize their mental health and educational development.

As schools forge ahead, many parents are wondering how they can safely send their children back to the classroom. My colleague Tara Parker-Pope answered some common questions.

How can it be safe for children to go back to classrooms during a pandemic?

Surprisingly, schools have not been a major cause of Covid spreading events, particularly when prevention measures are in place. A combination of protections — masking indoors, keeping students at least three feet apart in classrooms, keeping students in separate cohorts or “pods,” encouraging hand washing and regular testing, and quarantining — have been effective. The American Rescue Plan also allocated $122 billion to help school districts pay for safety measures, and the C.D.C. has allocated $10 billion for testing.

What are the risks of Covid-19 and the Delta variant to children?

Overall the news is reassuring. New research suggests the Delta variant may cause more serious illness in adults, but it’s not known if the variant puts children at greater risk. Compared with adults, children diagnosed with Covid-19 are more likely to have mild symptoms or none at all, and are far less likely to develop severe illness, be hospitalized or die from the disease. Out of about 3.5 million cases of Covid-19 in children in the U.S., 519 have died from Covid-19 (fewer than 0.015 percent).

What should parents do if their school district doesn’t have a mask policy?

The C.D.C. has said mask mandates in schools are associated with a roughly 20 percent reduction in Covid-19 incidence. But even in schools with mask mandates, compliance by children is never 100 percent. Parents in school districts without mask mandates should learn what other steps are being taken, including regular testing and ventilation measures. Parents can ask their children to wear masks in schools, but masking is far less effective if most kids aren’t doing it.

What precautions can we take at home to lower a child’s risk?

The most important step is to vaccinate everyone in the family as soon as they are eligible. This will lower the risk of a child getting infected at home and protect family members if a child brings the coronavirus home from school. In addition, everyone in the family should get flu shots this fall and make sure other vaccines are up-to-date. Paying attention to the community transmission and vaccination rates and wearing masks in risky settings can also help.

More resources:

Five tips for taming back-to-school anxiety.

What to know about risk of the Delta variant in schools.

Time magazine looked at how the variant is changing the back-to-school season.

Louisiana’s “darkest days”

Louisiana has emerged as a coronavirus hot spot, with the highest per capita rate of cases in the country and a beleaguered health care system straining to keep up.

The state is averaging more than 4,300 cases a day, according to New York Times data, and hospitals are overflowing with more Covid patients than ever before. Intensive care units are packed in many hospitals, including those serving children.

“These are the darkest days of our pandemic,” said Catherine O’Neal, the chief medical officer at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge.

If there’s a bright spot among the surge, it’s that demand for coronavirus vaccines has nearly quadrupled in recent weeks in the state, providing a promising glimmer that the deadly reality of the virus might break through a logjam of misunderstanding and misinformation.

But it takes time for vaccines to bolster immune systems, and the state could still be weeks away from relief.

Vaccine rollout

Los Angeles is considering a proposal that would require proof of vaccination in many indoor public spaces, The Los Angeles Times reports.

A new Russian disinformation campaign appears to be spreading falsehoods about the potential for forced vaccinations in the U.S.

The head of the most powerful U.S. teachers’ union signaled an openness to vaccine mandates.

Virginia will require state workers to be vaccinated or get tested, the governor said.

See how the vaccine rollout is going in your county and state.

What else we’re following

The rise of Delta and the uncertainty over schools and child care are keeping some parents from applying for jobs.

The Australian state of Victoria went back into lockdown.

Europe is winding down its pandemic aid programs. Is it too soon?

CNN fired three employees who went into the office unvaccinated.

To head off illegal dance parties, Ibiza called in foreign undercover detectives.

Covid at the Olympic Games: 31 people tested positive, a new daily high.

What you’re doing

I am so mentally and emotionally exhausted at this stage of the pandemic that when my 5-year-old recently came down with fever, sore throat and runny nose, I took him to get tested and was almost hoping it was Covid and that the mild symptoms we were all experiencing would be our way out of this cycle of anxiety. It was negative. I did feel relieved but it continues to lurk around the corner and almost feels inevitable.

— Chani P., Philadelphia

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