Sara Holton Gard wants officials to set a mask rule for all that would make it easier to enforce.
Debate escalates over masks as the start of school year approaches
03:29 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Stefanie Watts admits she’s worried about sending her granddaughter and her son back to school on Monday.

“I’m scared,” Watts told CNN at a vaccination event in DeKalb County, Georgia. “I’m not gonna tell no lie. I am scared.”

But that’s why Watts is getting the teens vaccinated, hoping it will keep them healthy and safe from Covid-19 when they go back to their Atlanta-area schools.

“Sometimes you’re going to have to take risks, sometimes you’re not. And right now, going back to school is a risk,” Watts said. “But I also want them to have their education.”

Many Georgia families like Watts’ are confronting the first day of school this week, their students among the earliest to return to school. And as the Peach State resumes classes in the coming days and weeks, it could offer a glimpse at what back-to-school will look like for a country reeling from a summer surge of Covid-19 spurred by the highly transmissible Delta variant.

With 181 school districts, the first day of school varies throughout Georgia. But some of the state’s largest districts go back this week, particularly in the Atlanta metro area.

DeKalb County, which includes part of Atlanta, begins Monday, as do Cobb and Clayton counties to the northwest and south. Atlanta Public Schools students begin the year Thursday, and Gwinnett County Schools – the state’s largest district – will start Wednesday, but have grades alternating between in-person and remote learning Wednesday, Thursday and next Monday.

Like much of the country, Georgia is seeing Covid-19 infections climb. As of Friday, the seven-day moving average of new daily cases was more than 3,000 cases reported per day for the first time since early March, according to a CNN analysis of Johns Hopkins University data.

Georgia’s Department of Public Health said Friday the case rate had increased 204% over the prior 14-day period, while hospitalizations had jumped about 50% and deaths about 18% in the same period.

And Covid-19 can and does affect children, even if in fewer numbers than among adults, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told Fox News on Friday.

“More hospitalizations have occurred in demographics that are over the age of 65, but we are seeing illness in some kids who get who get Covid, and it’s illness at rates that are even higher than the rates of influenza,” she said.

Schools are also a source of spread for Covid-19, she said.

Her agency released guidance last month that emphasized in-person learning as a priority, and many districts will have students back in schools. But how schools choose to handle Covid-19 will be left to local districts, Georgia State School Superintendent Richard Woods said last month.

In Cobb County, there will be social distancing in classrooms when possible, per the district’s website, but masks are optional for students and staff.