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Back to School: Alaska’s top health official weighs in on return to classrooms

Alaska's chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink providing guidance for parents and students on...
Alaska's chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink providing guidance for parents and students on safely returning to the classroom this fall.(Staff)
Published: Aug. 10, 2021 at 8:00 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - State of Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink is one of the many voices cheering for children to return to the classroom. However, with case counts on the rise, she remains the voice of caution and urges parents and students to practice safe mitigation techniques.

As children prepare to go back to school, Zink said much of the responsibility of keeping them in class falls on the parents as far as the pandemic goes.

“The best thing we can do as adults is get vaccinated,” she said. “We have an eight-fold reduction in getting COVID if you’re vaccinated, and a 25-fold reduction in hospitalizations and deaths if you’re vaccinated.”

She echoed the CDC’s latest guidance on universal masking policies being the best option to help keep schools open, as well as vaccinations. Zink also said that children who are properly masked and listed as a close-contact of COVID-19 don’t have to quarantine.

“It’s one thing about getting schools open, there’s a whole other thing about keeping them open,” Zink said. “When kids are able to stay in school even after a close-contact, that makes a big difference. It makes a big difference for parents who need to go to work, it makes a difference for businesses that need to keep moving forward, but the biggest difference is for those kiddos that need to stay in school.”

Zink said determining the effectiveness of COVID-19 policies at school districts without mask mandates depends on the spread in those individual communities.

“We have some communities that don’t have any COVID cases. So there’s not really a lot of additional benefit to masking when you don’t have any COVID cases,” she said. “But just like the weather, when conditions are bad, we need to take extra precautions. When we have a lot of COVID spreading, masks can be an important tool to help slow the spread.”

Zink said parents should tell their children to practice good hygiene and wash their hands as often as possible, in addition to wearing their masks properly. She also iterated the importance of keeping children in general good health to fight the virus, noting that healthy diets and physical activity help boost children’s immune systems.

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