There's never been a worse time in the pandemic for US kids

 An unidentified student is administered a test by a Wild Health nurse during a COVID-19 testing day at Brandeis Elementary School on August 17, 2021 in Louisville, Kentucky.

This story was excerpted from the August 25 edition of CNN's Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Click here to read past editions and subscribe.

(CNN)There's never been a worse time in the pandemic for US kids. And things could get worse quickly.

As millions of kids flock back to school, child hospitalizations for Covid-19 are at record levels. Some schools have already opened and then closed in the South, where infections are raging due to a comparatively low vaccine rate and the extra-infectious Delta variant. Thousands of children are quarantined.
President Joe Biden, who declared the pandemic partially over just last month, is promising to talk to Americans soon about how kids can safely return to in-person classes — for many for the first time in 17 months. But since the day-to-day running of schools is largely a state matter, there is not much he can do, apart from stress the need for masks, and to urge states to spend billions of dollars he budgeted to Covid-proof schools.
    Biden is also feuding with Republican governors like Ron DeSantis of Florida, who banned local school districts from issuing mask mandates. DeSantis says only parents should be able to decide on face coverings -- putting individual rights above more altruistic public health guidelines. The fact that DeSantis is clearly plotting a future presidential campaign and wants to please conservative grass roots voters surely has nothing to do with his behavior.
      Children will likely pay the price, either missing school because they are sick or quarantined, or in going back to online lessons at home — a scenario that has already damaged academic standards and taken a toll on mental health.
          It would be easier if children could be vaccinated. But emergency authorization for shots for Under 12s is several months away at least. And the long cherished idea that this autumn would represent a return to normal was just dashed by Dr. Anthony Fauci: The government's top infectious disease expert said on Monday that if most vaccine skeptics decide to take the jab, the pandemic could be brought under control ... by spring 2022. And that's already a huge "if."
          Children now face a third blemished school year.