Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) is requiring high school athletes to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination by November 8, according to a Monday letter from Superintendent Scott Braband. He said that would help keep FCPS high school students in the classroom.
“Vaccinating our students is a critical step in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 and minimizing any disruption to learning. The majority of pauses to instruction for our high school students come as a result of exposure during athletic activities, which the Virginia Department of Education classifies as a high-risk activity,” he said. “These pauses impact participation in activities and in-person learning while the Fairfax County Health Department (FCHD) investigates and determines close contacts and next steps.”
FCPS will work with the health department to provide access to the vaccines; 75.4 percent of 16-18 year olds in the county are fully vaccinated, with 85.7 percent who are partially vaccinated. The mandate also applies to any other activity that requires a physical examination, including dance team, out-of-season practice, and workouts.
The Virginia Department of Health already requires both public and private students to provide proof of vaccinations including Chickenpox; Diptheria, Tetanus and Pertussis; Meningococcal Conjugate, Human Papillomavirus; and Measles, Mumps, and Rubella. But COVID-19 vaccine mandates for students in Virginia have been largely limited to college students. The Roanoke Times reported Tuesday that 134 students out of about 37,000 were not enrolled at Virginia Tech for not complying with vaccine mandates. Earlier in August, The Virginian-Pilot reported that the University of Virginia disenrolled students who didn’t comply with COVID-19 vaccine requirements.
“FCPS is committed to providing the safest learning environment possible for our students and is proud to lead the way by requiring COVID-19 vaccination for athletic participation. Our decision is supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM), and ten other sports and medicine organizations that urge members to incorporate COVID-19 vaccination into sports physicals for student-athletes,” Brabrand wrote.
FCPS has already announced that its staff will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit negative COVID-19 tests starting in October.
The new requirements come as COVID-19 cases climb to numbers not seen since the beginning of February; the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) reported a seven-day moving average of 2,792 new cases on August 25. Hospitalizations match late-February numbers, with a seven-day moving average of 1,676 hospitalizations, according to the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association. The VDH reports that between January 17 and August 21, unvaccinated people were 13.3 times more likely to develop COVID-19 than fully-vaccinated people. In Virginia, 11.5 percent of reported cases are in 10-19 year-olds, and 5.5 percent are in children under 10, according to VDH data.
Although many Republican officials have begun encouraging their constituents to get vaccinated, they’re also concerned about mandates. In August, GOP gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin spoke about vaccine requirements for state employees on The John Fredericks Show: “They’re mandating vaccine passports for state employees. At the end of the day, I would recommend strongly to get the vaccine but I would leave it to people’s own decisions to get it. I got the vaccine.”
Last week, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe drew headlines for telling businesses to “make life difficult” for those who are unvaccinated.
“While we know this is a difficult decision for some families, it is an essential step that we must take to limit the duration of a pause, getting students back to the classroom and their activities sooner, but still safely. We will share more information in the coming weeks on how to provide proof of vaccination and vaccination opportunities for students,” Brabrand said in his letter.
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John Fredericks is the publisher and editor-in-chief of The Virginia Star.
He is also a Trump 2020 delegate and the chairman of the Trump Virginia Delegation.