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New Study: COVID, Vaccine and Mask Mandates, Driving Parent Anxiety as Classrooms and Campuses Kick into High Gear

Despite rising risk of COVID-19, new research from MDLIVE reveals school-based health mandates exacerbating parent stress

MIRAMAR, FL, September 21, 2021 – The majority of the nation’s students have returned to campuses and classrooms against the backdrop of the COVID-19 Delta variant. However, despite the efforts of educators to protect student, faculty and staff health, a concerning contradiction has surfaced: high student vaccination rates, and mask and vaccine initiatives are doing little to relieve, and in many cases are contributing to parent anxiety, exposing the challenges facing schools, policy makers and public health officials in keeping students safe.

According to a new national survey, 72% of parents of K-12 students and 57% of parents of college students are more anxious about their child’s return to school or campus this year than ever before, despite increased institutional and public health efforts supporting student safety.

More than twice as many parents of children in grades K – 12 would feel more anxious (48%) than would feel less anxious (19%) if their child’s school required mask-wearing indoors. Parents of children 13 years old or older are equally split on whether they would feel more anxious (39%) or less anxious (39%) if their child’s school or university required vaccinations.

“Given the complexity of issues and divergence of opinion around mandates, it’s understandable that this contradiction of concern has surfaced among parents,” said Cynthia Zelis, M.D., chief medical officer, MDLIVE. “While we all want to gain a sense of normalcy for ourselves and our children, it is still vitally important to trust those who are providing expert advice on the practices and public health measures that need to be adhered to in order to keep everyone safe.”

The survey of 2,259 parents with children from kindergarten through college was conducted by OnePoll on behalf of MDLIVE from August 13 – 30, 2021. It is the first to report on a wide range of physical, mental and health service concerns parents are contending with as the new school year begins.

Concerns Impacting Confidence in Campus Health Services

Campus spread is of major concern as colleges and universities reopen their communities and student life. According to the survey, 72% of parents of college students reported their child has been vaccinated, and more than 700 colleges and universities1 currently require vaccinations for students and/or staff. Despite high vaccination rates, more than half (53%) of parents of college students are still concerned about their child contracting COVID.

As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to climb, parents are expressing concern over the campus health services’ ability to support students’ overall health care needs. Fewer than half (49%) of parents are confident that their child will be able to access campus health services if needed. Of particular concern is student mental health: 46% of parents of college students report their child is more stressed about returning to campus this year than previous years, yet only 30% feel confident their child can access mental health and counseling services while away at college.

To fill the care gap, the survey revealed that 71% of parents are taking some type of action on their own to support their child’s health while away at college, including arranging for use of telehealth and researching off-campus health services.

“Parents are clearly worried about whether or not their kids can get the care they need while away from home amidst persistent COVID infection rates and the incremental concern about mental health,” said Dr. Zelis. “Despite being physically apart, parents are seeking the security of knowing there are options available to their kids, and where their kids can go whenever they may need to access care while away at school.”

K-12 Care Conundrum

Parents of school-aged children (K-12) are showing similar levels of anxiety, albeit for slightly different reasons.

While 52% of parents with school-aged children indicated they are concerned about their child’s risk of contracting COVID upon returning to school, 69% of parents of vaccinated children are now more worried about their kids contracting other infectious diseases, as viruses such as Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) emerge and health officials begin to assess the forthcoming flu season.

Yet mental health remains a primary concern for younger children: 67% of parents stated that their child’s mental health suffered during the pandemic and 60% reported their child was more stressed this year than in previous years about going back to school.

Parents of K-12 students have taken steps to address the mental health issue: one in four parents (24%) reported they had their child see a therapist prior to the new school year. In 2019, just 11%2 of children ages 3 to 17 received treatment or counseling from a mental health provider.

“These are formative and vulnerable years in a child’s development,” said Dr. Zelis. “Providing children of all ages with access to professional health services and counseling, and creating open lines of communication to discuss any issues or emotions they are feeling is important to both physical and mental wellbeing.”


MDLIVE, an Evernorth company, is a leading provider of virtual health care services in the U.S. with more than 60 million members nationwide. We work with our health plan, health system, and self-insured employer partners to give patients simple, convenient and affordable access to the highest quality medical and behavioral health care, 24/7, from the comfort and safety of their homes. With a vision and passion for changing health care for the better, we are working to improve the patient experience, close the patient-provider accessibility gap, and bring providers opportunities to augment the services they currently offer. To learn more about MDLIVE, visit, download our app, or text “Sophie” to MDLIVE (635483) to register.




Amy Trow, (412) 377-3771

Coyne PR
Ann Smith
Courtney Ambrosi, (973) 588-2037

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Amy Trow