Physician strongly recommends children wear masks at school
To the Journal editor:
I strongly encourage that kids wear masks for the start of school this year, especially children under 12 and older unvaccinated kids. Masks limited the spread of COVID last year, leading to a successful in-person education for our children while many elsewhere were virtual most of the year. This year we have the benefit of vaccinations in most teachers and some kids, but Delta’s contagiousness is proving itself in unmasked schools already.
However much we may wish it, we are not done with COVID yet.
My family has recent experience to highlight the risks locally. Our 3-year-old son developed symptoms while at preschool, and later tested positive for COVID. His school room closed and we distanced our kids, but four days later our third grader tested positive. Masked school-age children were visiting just before my son developed symptoms, and none of the visiting kids got sick. My wife and I have been vaccinated for over six months, and neither of us have tested positive. Masks work. Vaccines work.
Though most infected kids won’t get very sick, around 1 in 100 are hospitalized, pediatric hospitals are filling in the South, and early studies suggest Delta may be slightly worse for kids. Our communities also include many kids I provide care for- kids with congenital heart disease, developmental delays, genetic abnormalities, compromised immune systems, and other high-risk conditions. Many stayed out of society and school last year, and the loss of education and associated services was devastating for them. We know they are at higher risk of COVID complications, and if they can’t be vaccinated yet then they rely on our community to keep them safe.
Even if children do not get sick, the missed school during isolation and quarantine is detrimental, especially when kids are trying to catch up on missed education already. Masks can have social and emotional impacts on kids, but the harms of quarantine and potential medical risks should be of greater concern, at least until all kids can be vaccinated.
I encourage you to engage your kids in this discussion. They can take an active role in keeping themselves and others safe, decreasing the chance of quarantines and cancelled extracurriculars, and in ending the pandemic sooner for all of us. When eligible, I encourage having similar discussions about vaccines. I have had these discussions with my own kids and patients and hope you will too.
JAMES REINHART, MD