By Caroline Vandergriff

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – As the delta variant continues to take its toll, thousands of North Texas students returned to in-person learning Monday, August 2 – and even more will start a new school year in the weeks to come.

Some parents are concerned about whether children can safely go back to the classroom in the midst of a pandemic.

“This delta variant is as contagious as chickenpox,” said Stephen Love, president and CEO of the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council. “The other thing is, it appears that of the people that do contract it, they tend to be more ill and have a higher acuity level.”

According to the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council, there are more than 1,700 patients in area hospitals right now, which is a 345% increase compared to a month ago.

The number of hospitalized pediatric patients is now three times the amount it was on July 2.

“We know that although kids are at very low risk to have severe illness and complications due to COVID infection, it does happen,” said Dr. Diana Cervantes, director of UNTHSC’s epidemiology program.

Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth currently has 16 patients with COVID-19.

Their seven-day percent positivity rate (the number of positive COVID tests in the past week) is now 10.3%. Just two months ago, on June 2, that rate was 1%.

Children’s Health in Dallas currently has 16 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 as well.

So how concerned should families be about sending their children back to school?

“I wouldn’t say that they should be extremely concerned, high level concern, but you want to make sure that you are promoting just good prevention measures,” Dr. Cervantes said.

When kids went back to in-person learning last school year, Dr. Cervantes says we didn’t see massive outbreaks coming from schools. She credits the many safety measures put in place, like masks and social distancing.

“Those measures that were helpful last year, are going to be helpful this year and then on top of that, for kids who are 12 and older, we also have the vaccine which is another huge layer of protection,” she said.

Per the governor’s orders, school districts can’t require masks this year, but it is recommended by the CDC and strongly encouraged by doctors.

“All eligible children and adults need to get vaccinated immediately to keep school doors open, and Cook Children’s supports masking of children at school,” said Dr. Marc Mazade, medical director of Infection Control and Prevention at Cook Children’s Medical Center.

They advise schools to continue to take the virus seriously.

“Parents still need to be very vigilant about making sure that they’re not sending their kids to school if they have any COVID-19 signs and symptoms,” Dr. Cervantes added.

All those steps could go a long way towards keeping case counts low.

Caroline Vandergriff