Student vaccine mandate looms as FCPS COVID-19 cases rise

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Photo courtesy of FCPS

FCPS COVID-19 Health Metrics Dashboard is updated daily and shows reported case numbers categorized by color, orange is students, blue is staff, and grey is an outside visitor.

FCPS has seen hundreds of COVID -19 reported positive tests across the county, per the Fairfax County COVID-19 Health Metrics data. A common theme with every day of released data is that the vast majority of cases have been students.

On August 20th, Fairfax County announced that they would be requiring all teachers and staff across the county to get vaccinated and have proof of vaccination by September 9th, but even without the mandate, 80% of teachers in Fairfax County had been vaccinated (received one or more shot) by April 6th, nearly five months before the actual deadline, which begs the question, should there be a student vaccine mandate?

FCPS has already mandated that all students participating in fall/winter sports have proof of vaccination, which they can now mandate since the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine has been FDA approved. COVID-19 cases in a single day have reached as high as 60, with 75% of those cases being students, who as of now do not have to be vaccinated, do not have to disclose vaccination, and do not have to test regularly for COVID-19.

The solution might not be a mandatory vaccination. It could be a testing site on campus, more rigorous contact tracing, or other measures that might be more severe. It is very important to FCPS to have a five-day in-person school week because of a law Gov. Ralph Northam passed in March requiring all Virginia schools to open five days a week in-person. 

A student vaccine mandate is possible. FCPS does have the capability and ability to enforce one, but what kind of uproar might that cause with parents and families who don’t trust the vaccine or don’t want to get the vaccine?

FCPS has altered the procedure they call “pausing,” where a student has been deemed a close contact and must be outside of the building for a certain amount of time, to be less severe for vaccinated students. It is evident that FCPS is willing to and has made changes to the procedure based on vaccination status since the FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine became official. But the question remains, how likely is it that FCPS makes vaccines mandatory for all students?

A big hurdle left in FCPS’s way, though, is that the vaccine has only been given approval for ages 12 and up, which leaves a big gap for almost all of FCPS’s kindergarten through sixth-grade students. Mandating a vaccine for all middle and high school students is something that the county can do, but if the approval for the vaccine isn’t soon, what is the county to do about these elementary schools? 

Luckily, according to a recent CDC study, COVID-19 has a lower “attack rate”, as they called it, in elementary schools as compared to high schools and secondary schools. This means that COVID-19 was found to be more likely to spread within a high school setting than an elementary school setting due to the population of most high schools being higher than that of elementary schools.

Throughout this entire almost two-year pandemic, one thing that we have all learned is how long, compared to other diseases, the COVID-19 incubation period is. According to the CDC, the COVID-19 incubation period can be anywhere from two days to 14 days. So a kid can get COVID-19 not feel symptoms at all for possibly up to two weeks and be going to and interacting with the school environment the entire time they have COVID-19. 

Reopening schools was never going to be easy, but a vaccine mandate might very well be on the way in an attempt to make it a lot safer and more secure. FCPS might find themselves in a situation where they have to mandate a vaccine.