Will schools listen to pediatricians or anti-maskers?

Local school boards around the country are increasingly becoming cauldrons of anger and political division, boiling with disputes over such issues as COVID-19 mask rules. (Hunter D'Antuono/Flathead Beacon via AP)
Local school boards around the country are increasingly becoming cauldrons of anger and political division, boiling with disputes over such issues as COVID-19 mask rules. (Hunter D'Antuono/Flathead Beacon via AP)

Credit: Hunter D'Antuono

Credit: Hunter D'Antuono

Georgia pediatricians join call for mandatory masks for all students when schools resume

In an open letter today to school superintendents, the Georgia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, representing more than 1,800 Georgia pediatricians, urged mandatory masks for all students older than 2 and all school staff, regardless of their vaccination status.

The letter reaffirms the guidance released Monday by the national American Academy of Pediatrics. The physicians are concerned about the surge in cases of the more contagious delta variant. In the past week, Georgia’s hospitalizations from the disease have increased 30%.

As the AJC reported Monday:

The highly contagious delta variant now accounts for about 70% of all new cases, most of which are among those who haven't been vaccinated, including children too young for the shots. Of the 480 Georgia patients hospitalized with COVID-19 so far this month, 416 were not fully vaccinated, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

“There is a clear message that is coming through: This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated," Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a press briefing last week.

To understand why the universal masking recommendation will be ignored by many districts in Georgia, let me share some of the comments I’ve received about mask policies in schools over the last two weeks. These are the same arguments that last year led school boards across Georgia to bow to mask opponents and decline to impose mandates.

Mask use is child abuse. There is no pandemic.

The risk of 3-year-olds spreading COVID is less than .0018% per 100K, in other words, nonexistent. The damage done to the mental health and respiratory systems of these kids is immense, not to mention the very doctors of these kids contributing to this BS. Why do teachers and doctors think they know it all?

So damn lucky that my kids are grown and out of public school! School leadership has truly lost their minds!

Stop listening to these so-called “experts" who are funded by big pharma and who have zero interest in your health. They want to make you sick, and keep you sick so they have lifetime customers.

Masks are more dangerous for children than covid. The Delta variant is more transmissible and easier to catch; but it's also far less lethal to children (.997% survival rate) and most healthy adults, just as every virus in history has been. A state in India with 210 million people, weathered the delta variant with very low hospitalizations and even lower death rate.

The capitulation of school and state leaders to these viewpoints explains why Georgia and other states are still being held hostage to this persistent and wily virus. Ignoring the ongoing threat from COVID-19 and the rise of infections among younger, unvaccinated Americans could turn this school year into a horror show.

Consider that in Arkansas, a state with a very low vaccination rate and now a soaring COVID infection rate, there are almost as many Arkansans infected with COVID-19 who are 17 or younger as people 65 and older, according to Dr. Cam Patterson, chancellor of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

With that, here is what Georgia pediatricians hope to see this year when schools reopen:

We recommend universal masking because a significant portion of the K-12 student population is not yet eligible for vaccination and masking is a proven measure for protecting those who are not vaccinated. Furthermore, schools may not have a system to monitor vaccine status of students (or staff); and some communities have low vaccination rates where the virus may be actively circulating. (No vaccine is yet approved for children under 12; and less than 20% of Georgia adolescents age 12-17 have received the vaccine.)

• Include multiple layers of other protection such as social distancing and good ventilation. The recommendations are that schools maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students in classrooms wherever possible, combined with indoor mask-wearing by all students, teachers, and staff to reduce transmission risk.

• Continue screening for COVID-19, hand-washing and respiratory etiquette, staying home when sick and getting tested, contact tracing in combination with quarantine and isolation, and cleaning and disinfection to keep schools safe.

• Encourage COVID vaccinations for all adolescents, teachers and staff who are eligible.

• School districts should remain in close contact and coordinate with their local public health authorities, community pediatricians and school nurses.

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