Nearly 4 in 10 U.S. parents (39 percent) know children who’ve been forced to quarantine because of COVID-19 since the start of this school year, according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll — and roughly a quarter (23 percent) say the virus has sent their own kids home from class.
The survey of 1,640 U.S. adults, conducted from Oct. 1 to 4, highlights the vast impact that America’s latest COVID wave has had even on Americans who haven’t fallen ill themselves — like schoolchildren and working parents.
The poll also shows that despite all the sound and fury over masks and mandates, most Americans have largely come to accept both as valuable tools that can help the U.S. return to some semblance of normalcy.
Fueled by lagging vaccination rates and the hypercontagious Delta variant, America’s summer surge coincided with a nationwide return to full in-person schooling. By late August, virus-driven school closures had soared to about 240 per week, according to Burbio, a company that has monitored district responses to the pandemic.
Though falling infection rates have since slowed closures, the total number of schools forced to suspend class this year is well over 2,200, meaning the number of individual children who have been required to quarantine — either as part of a school closure or not — is far higher.
The Yahoo News/YouGov poll results suggest that number could be in the millions — each child with parents or guardians who have suddenly had to scramble for childcare and possibly miss work because of it.
The good news is that the situation appears to be improving. Many districts are adopting more precise quarantine rules that allow children to stay in school as long as they are masked when exposed or continue to test negative for the virus. And as COVID cases decline in surrounding communities — they’re down 35 percent nationally since the start of September — it has become clear that in-person school isn’t driving big outbreaks.
As a result, a consensus is emerging on how best to keep kids in class while also keeping them safe. Roughly 6 in 10 parents have consistently told Yahoo News and YouGov that they are worried about their children getting COVID (60 percent); that they will tell their child to wear a mask at school (63 percent); and that students and staff should be required to cover their faces (61 percent).
What has changed is that more and more districts are listening. In mid-August, just 55 percent of parents reported that their local schools were requiring masks; today, that number is 64 percent.
Likewise, more school districts — and at least one state, California — are starting to require that eligible students get vaccinated against COVID-19. Most Americans (52 percent) support such measures; just 34 percent are opposed. Public schools already require vaccinations for measles and other infectious diseases.
On Thursday, Pfizer and BioNTech said they had asked federal regulators to authorize emergency use of their coronavirus vaccine for the roughly 28 million U.S. children ages 5 to 11 — the largest remaining bloc of unvaccinated Americans. According to the Yahoo News/YouGov poll, many of their parents (42 percent) plan to get them vaccinated as soon as possible; another 25 percent say they will wait and see.
Currently, about 42 percent of parents with children ages 12 to 15 — the most recent group to become eligible — say their kids are already vaccinated, while another 19 percent say they plan to get them inoculated as soon as possible. If vaccination rates among all minors were to reach that level — a combined 60 percent or so — it could further slow the U.S. pandemic.
And school vaccine mandates might help even more: An additional 11 percent of parents who say they aren’t currently planning to inoculate their unvaccinated children ages 5 to 18 also say they would change their minds if their child’s school required it.
This dynamic — how the pandemic’s personal impact can increase acceptance of safety measures — is also evident outside the classroom. A full 39 percent of U.S. adults now report that they or a friend or family member tested positive for COVID during the past month; 16 percent say that either they or a friend or family member was hospitalized over the same period; and 10 percent say a friend or family member died during that time. These numbers are declining slightly as Delta retreats, but they remain tragically high.
In light of this experience, Americans largely agree on what should be done if Delta surges again this fall and winter. Few want to return to lockdowns (28 percent) or closing indoor drinking and dining (29 percent) — harsh restrictions that even the most cautious policymakers have largely taken off the table now that vaccines are widely available.
But majorities do support masking requirements in public indoor spaces (61 percent) and requiring as many people as possible to get vaccinated (55 percent). Even more popular? Lowering the cost and increasing the availability of at-home testing kits (71 percent) — a policy with huge potential in which the Biden administration just invested $1 billion. Meanwhile, about half of Americans (49 percent) favor rules — like the one approved this week in Los Angeles — that would require proof of vaccination inside bars, restaurants, gyms and other crowded spaces. Some 39 percent are opposed.
The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,640 U.S. adults interviewed online from Oct. 1 to 4, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, as well as 2020 presidential vote (or non-vote) and voter registration status. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. adults. The margin of error is approximately 2.7 percent.
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