BOISE, Idaho — Students across the state are heading back into the classroom amid a COVID-19 case surge. Idaho is reporting a big jump in the number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations across Idaho.
Many school districts are recommending masks for students, teachers and staff, but stopping short of making face coverings a requirement. However, Boise School Board voted to make masks mandatory because of concerns about the delta variant of COVID-19 and the rising case count.
Idaho's youngest students are not vaccinated at all against COVID: The vaccine has not yet been approved for children under 12.
Across the state, a relatively small number of students between 12 and 17 are vaccinated. The state reports 19% of Idaho kids between 12 and 15 are fully vaccinated, with 27% in that age group have gotten at least one dose. Similarly, 28% of 16- and 17-year-olds are fully vaccinated, with 34% having gotten at least one shot.
Idaho Gov. Brad Little is directing $30 million toward expanded COVID-19 testing in Idaho K-12 schools to help meet the need. Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra joined Viewpoint to talk about that fund and other ways the state is helping districts navigate the pandemic this school year.
Below is an excerpt from the interview. You can catch the full conversation, as well as hear from Boise School District spokesman Dan Hollar, at Viewpoint's new time Sunday at 9 a.m. right after Meet the Press.
Sherri Ybarra: "The short answer is we're doing everything we can. My staff is always available to answer questions. We've had lots of webinars around COVID relief funds. We have a back-to-school website, an easy page with back-to-school guidance on the latest data and resources and federal guidelines around COVID and how to prioritize health and safety for our students. We worked with Health and Welfare to provide the latest guidance and information around testing. Of course, that is a local decision and you need parental permission to do that, but there is a resource there in case the district is interested in something like that, because like you said earlier, there could be a surge in cases coming. We want to make sure that schools stay open."
Doug Petcash: Oregon Governor Kate Brown just announced Thursday that all K-12 staff will be required to be vaccinated. Is there any discussion of a mask and vaccination mandate for schools in Idaho?
Sherri Ybarra: "Absolutely not. There is no mask mandate and there is no vaccine mandate. We just need to be respectful of other people's choices. There is no vaccine mandate for the typical vaccines that you get when you go to school. So, why would COVID be any different? I mean that's the same rule. Again, we need to make sure the public has all the information possible so that they can make that informed decision for themselves."
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