As students have returned or are preparing to return to in-person instruction, there's renewed focus on vaccinating adolescents.
Letha Muhammad's son's last school year as a high school freshman had him learning remotely, but last week returned to in-class learning.
"I made the decision after last school year because it got really rough for him that last quarter of school being virtual," said Muhammad.
He is fully vaccinated.
"He has been able to have more interactions with his friends. I think it also gave him a peace of mind knowing he was going back to school. And honestly for me when I pulled up in the line to drop him off Monday morning and I saw how many cars there were and how many people were getting out of the cars, I had a sense of relief as well," Muhammad said.
NCDHHS reports that 12 to 17 year-olds make up 8% of the state's population, but only 5% of those who are at least partially vaccinated. Furthermore, 14% of the state's population is younger than 12 years old, an age group that is unable to be vaccinated at this point.
With that in mind, Muhammad supports masking in schools, even for vaccinated people like her son.
"I believe that kids should be masked in schools, K-12, as an extra layer of protection for not only the staff and students in school, but for the families that they're returning home to when they leave the school building," said Muhammad.
Dr. Nicholas Turner, an infectious disease specialist with Duke Health, agrees.
"Masks are a good idea in those indoor environments, even for some of those vaccinated individuals, because the Delta variant is throwing a wrench into our plans. It's much more transmissible, even though the vaccines are still significantly effective," said Turner.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommended everybody eligible to be vaccinated to do so, and that all students over 2 years old wear masks regardless of vaccination status.
The Delta variant is more transmissible than the original strain of the virus, though health officials are working to learn if its more dangerous for youth.
"You have heard those stories coming out of Louisiana pediatric ICU's where there are kids as young as a few months old who are sick from this. That is rare. Certainly young people are less likely to fall ill. But anybody who tells you don't have to worry about it if you're a young person, there are many counter-examples around us," said NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins.
"Up until this point, children have not been as heavily burdened as have adults. There are concerning emerging reports now particularly out of Louisiana that children are beginning to be hospitalized with the Delta variant. I think we're all watching that because the landscape continues to change," said Turner.