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Raging Delta Variant Creates New Challenges For Kansas City Parents

Three of Nikki Rogers' children color pages at the Kansas City Public Library in their first indoor outing since 2020.
Jodi Fortino
KCUR 89.3
Three of Nikki Rogers' children color pages at the Kansas City Public Library in their first indoor outing since 2020.

Kansas City parents are changing their summer plans as the delta variant of the coronavirus spreads in Kansas and Missouri.

A weekend visit to the public library is an ordinary trip for most Kansas City families.

But for Overland Park resident Nikki Rogers, Saturday marked the first time her children have participated in an indoor activity since the pandemic began.

“We really have just now started getting back out a little bit. We pretty much turned into hermits for the year 2020,” Rogers said.

There is no coronavirus vaccine authorized for kids under the age of 12. With four children under eight, Reed said she has been hesitant to take her family out in public for more than a year.

When case numbers began to dwindle in the spring, she began considering enrolling them in in-person classes for the upcoming school year.

But with the highly contagious delta variant now accounting for more than 73% of COVID-19 cases in Missouri, she says she is now looking at keeping her two youngest kids home, ages two and four.

“With the older kids, I can kind of trust that they can wear their mask and wash their hands properly and everything. But with the two-year-old and the four-year-old, I'm a bit more nervous about that,” Rogers said.

After exhausting their stock of books at home, Rogers decided it was safe to head to the Kansas City Public Library, which has kept its mask mandate in place.

Talia Evans, KCPL’s media specialist, says they decided to keep their mask mandate because they serve vulnerable populations, especially children under 12.

She said the surge of the delta variant only reinforced that the library made the right decision.

“We knew that we needed to do everything we could to still protect them and make them feel comfortable, make parents feel comfortable because they have no choice,” Evans said.

The library has moved storytimes for children online and is holding in-person events outdoors.

Schools, summer camps and other spots frequented by children are taking a range of different approaches. A Kansas News Service report found that several large school districts in Johnson County, including Olathe and Blue Valley, have lifted their mask mandates. Others, like Shawnee Mission, have yet to decide whether they will require masks in the fall.

The YMCA of Greater Kansas City is following the masking policies in place in five different counties.

All YMCA facilities, activities and summer camps follow the guidelines of the counties that they are located in. If a camp or activity is held in a local school district’s facilities, YMCA operates under their rules.

Steven Scraggs, senior vice president of youth services, said this means masks are only recommended — not required — at some YMCA locations.

Scraggs said he’d received mixed feedback from parents on their protocols. Some would like to see more precautions in place, while others are more lax about COVID-19 precautions.

“We try to do our best to kind of balance the approach to both of those circumstances and let parents know we're doing our very best to try to keep kids in a fun and active environment, but at the same time, safe as they possibly can be,” Scraggs said.

Precautions taken at all locations include keeping children outside when possible, dividing kids into smaller cohorts and requiring masks when transporting by bus.

Weighing The Risks

Lindsey Harju also visited the Kansas City Public Library this weekend with her three children. She said she’s looking for precautions like mask mandates when choosing where it is safe to take them.

“Indoor versus outdoor is a big consideration. If there's an event that's happening outdoors, that makes it a lot easier. Mask requirements are nice. It makes it just, ‘Hey, we're all on the same page.’” Harju said.

Dr. Angela Myers is division director of pediatric infectious diseases at Children’s Mercy Hospital. She recommends parents check what rules are in place at daycares, preschools and summer camps.

She also said parents should avoid summer trips to any hotspots for the variant, like Springfield, Missouri.

“I think there's a lot of information that parents can kind of gather when they make these decisions for their kids that can help them kind of determine where the risks are and how they're being mitigated,” Myers said.

According to Myers, other precautions to look out for also include screenings for kids and adults and vaccination policies for those older than 12. She said that keeping children in “cohorts” also helps minimize potential exposure to the virus.

She said it’s up to parents to weigh the “risk-benefit” of activities to determine if they are comfortable with their child participating.

Rogers said she was ready to continue keeping her children at home, but she began seeing changes in their eight-year-old daughter.

“We're starting to see her personality change a little bit. And where she used to be super social, now she's got a lot of big emotions,” Rogers said.

Rogers said she’s making an effort to get out more for her child’s social wellbeing, but she said it could be difficult to take her children out in public when many places have dropped masking and other precautions.

“I would personally like to see masks still be mandated, not to protect the mask wearer but to protect those that cannot get vaccinated,” Rogers said.

Lindsey Harju's 3-year-old daughter picks out a book at the Kansas City Public Library.
Jodi Fortino
KCUR 89.3
Lindsey Harju's three-year-old daughter picks out a book at the Kansas City Public Library.

Vaccines are key to protecting the unvaccinated

Just 39.5% of Missouri residents have been fully vaccinated. Harju said she is frustrated by the vaccination rate and waited to return to in-person church services with her children until she could confirm that more attendees were getting their shot.

She said she’s concerned not only that her children could be exposed to the variant but that they could spread it to their elderly neighbors, who they frequently visit. Rogers said she’s also concerned about her children bringing home the virus to their grandparents, who live with them.

Myers said there is an increased risk of infection from in-home exposures compared to exposures in the community, especially with the more contagious delta variant.

That’s why she said that the vaccine is key in preventing the spread of the variant.

People who are fully vaccinated are protected from severe illness and death, including from the delta variant, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration.

Myers said the chances of a child spreading the virus or a parent bringing it home to them isn’t a “zero scenario,” but getting all household members their shot will significantly lower those chances.

“Until we get enough people vaccinated, including the younger children, we're going to have to remain on our guard. Because the more we allow pockets of unvaccinated people, the more likely we are to continue to get more and more variants to happen,” Myers said.

Myers said it appears that the variant is not linked to an increase in Pediatric Multi-System Inflammatory Syndrome, a rare illness associated with COVID-19. It also does not appear to cause a more severe form of COVID-19.

But it may not be too long before a vaccine becomes available to the under 12 age group as pharmaceutical companies continue their trials in younger children, according to Myers.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to President Biden and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in May that he expected children as young as four would be able to get vaccinated by the end of the year or early 2022.

More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
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