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Viewpoint: Back to school amid COVID-19 case surge

This edition of Viewpoint focuses on what the state of Idaho and Boise School District are doing to keep students, teachers and staff safe from COVID-19.

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho is reporting a big jump in the number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations across the state.

Many school districts are recommending that students, teachers and staff wear masks, but not requiring it. The Boise School Board voted to make masks mandatory because of concerns about the delta variant of COVID-19 and the rising case count.

The youngest students are not vaccinated at all against COVID-19. The vaccine is not yet approved for kids 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. 27% in that age group have gotten at least one dose. 28% of 16 and 17-year-olds are fully vaccinated. 34% have gotten at least one shot.

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 explains how the state is helping districts navigate the pandemic this school year.

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."

Also, on this edition of Viewpoint, Dan Hollar with the Boise School District talks about the district's mask mandate, other safety measures in place and how the first week of school went.

Viewpoint airs at 9 a.m. on Sundays right after Meet The Press.

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