Many of my worst pandemic fears about the fate of my cancer patients and adult family members abated once they were fully immunized. But with the hyper-transmissible delta variant circulating unchecked in many areas of our country still half-vaccinated, the safety of my unvaccinated 3-year-old son has never been more uncertain.
Research in North Carolina, Wisconsin, Utah and Missouri has shown that mask warrants effectively hamper coronavirus transmission rates in schools.
So far, children have been spared the worst of Covid-19. Less than 2% of pediatric coronavirus infections required hospitalization. Even of the 4,404 cases identified to date of the dreaded multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, a rare but serious disease linked to Covid in which different parts of the body become dangerously inflamed, less than 1% have died.
But this current phase of the pandemic is putting children, who are not allowed to be vaccinated if they are under 12 at risk, to record levels. “It’s more than what we’ve seen in the past. Our intensive care unit is 100% occupied, ”said Dr. Sheldon Kaplan, professor of pediatric infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. “There is no doubt that there is a huge impact in children. “
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, nearly 100,000 new Covid infections were recorded in children last week. The resulting hospitalizations reached an unprecedented pandemic high. And hot spots like Florida, Missouri and Arkansas are also seeing critically ill children filling beds in the intensive care unit. Currently in Dallas, the situation has become so dire that an official warns that a sick child must wait until another dies before an intensive care bed is available. There is also emerging evidence now that regardless of the severity of their initial infections, children, like adults, also struggle with a constellation of long symptoms of Covid.
Yet several of these states are among those recklessly rejecting the best and most approved method of mitigating the spread of this virulent disease in children, let alone one that is completely safe, easy to use and readily available. : compulsory masks. And it comes as children begin to congregate in large numbers in schools – the exact places most conducive to rapid viral transmission.
Research in North Carolina, Wisconsin, Utah and Missouri has shown that mandated masks effectively hamper coronavirus transmission rates in schools. “Our study showed very little spread at school, no real spread in the community, and no significant increase in the number of communities when there were very good mitigation measures. When we delved into that, it was really masks, ”said Dr. Amy Falk, a community pediatrician in Wisconsin. “Wearing a mask is going to be crucial. “
But universal masking for students has become a lightning rod problem, and mask warrants have become weapons for the cultural wars going on in our country in places like Florida and Texas. Those two states and six others, including Arizona, Iowa and South Carolina, have ruled the mask warrants illegal, though many school districts are not happy with the limitations and have pursued warrants anyway. In Florida, Ron DeSantis responded by threatening to cut the salaries of principals who must be masked. In other places, the mask quarrel has led to physical assaults on teachers.
In places where compulsory masking of pupils cannot be implemented, the sanction of these absurd political theaters must be that openings in schools be suspended in favor of a return to distance learning. This is the only way to protect the otherwise defenseless children from the pernicious delta variant.
Already, many schools without a mask requirement in Mississippi, Georgia and Indiana were forced to return to virtual learning last week after the Covid outbreaks. In Mississippi alone, nearly 1,000 children tested positive for Covid in the second week of school after building doors opened in late July. Another 440 students are in quarantine in Palm Beach County, Florida, just days after the start of the academic year after 51 students and faculty confirmed cases of Covid.
A return to school in person under such uncertain circumstances would be perilous at any time. This is doubly worrying at a time when another contagious pediatric disease linked to the lungs is also on the rise, as respiratory syncytial virus cases are unusually increasing across the country at this time. At the same time, the overwhelming pressure of the Covid pediatric burden on hospitals also means that pediatricians and specialists are already struggling to deal with non-Covid health issues like trauma, appendicitis and seizures. acute asthma.
Yet classrooms that impose mandatory masks coupled with improved ventilation, accessible Covid testing, good hygiene, physical distancing and vaccinations for teachers and staff may allow schools elsewhere to remain open. This is crucial not only to prevent learning loss, but also to preserve children’s long-term physical and mental health.
These efforts can be supported by continued inoculation of eligible adults and adolescents, which has resulted in reduced cases of Covid in unvaccinated children. A 20-point increase in adult immunization rates can halve the number of children who test positive. New advances can be made to protect unvaccinated children by allowing their parents to continue working from home. And finally, the Food and Drug Administration should be pressured to urgently approve vaccines for under 12s. A longer examination period is unnecessary, as side effects from the vaccines are unlikely to appear after two months.
What has made children more resistant to exposure to Covid than adults so far is not entirely clear. This may be because, compared to adults, children have fewer receptors on the surface of their cells that the virus can use to enter and cause illness. Children may also be able to mount a faster immune response that quells the contagion before it wreaks havoc. In addition, fewer comorbidities and lower obesity rates can also prevent serious outcomes.
But a lower risk is not an absence of risk. Simple pandemic calculations tell us that as legions of children become infected, more will also be admitted to hospital with severe symptoms. And it’s not yet clear whether the delta variant, which has already upended many of our assumptions about the pandemic, is making children sicker than ever or simply increasing the volume of those exposed and subsequently sick.
Either way, places where state governments, school districts, and parents refuse to provide basic health guarantees should automatically face virtual learning. Much more than just disrupting the normality of a third year of school, any politicization or denial of medical and scientific truths threatens to turn it into a pandemic of innocent people.