Masks vs. children…what is the real risk?

Published 3:45 pm Tuesday, August 17, 2021

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It’s an alarming story out of Louisiana: COVID-19, which was previously considered a mild threat to children, might be more dangerous than we thought.
Children in Louisiana make up almost 20% of new COVID cases — the third largest number of infections in the state. Doctors warn that with the Delta variant, more children are being hospitalized than ever before, with some in intensive care or placed on ventilators due to severe infection.
“The Delta variant is a game changer, and it seems to have a propensity for causing severe disease in children and adolescents,” Dr. Mark Kline, physician-in-chief at Children’s Hospital New Orleans, told MSNBC.
Similar trends are occurring nationwide, primarily in southern states like Florida and Arkansas. In the last week alone, children accounted for roughly 19% of the total number of new cases nationwide, according to a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association.
And North Carolina could be next, especially now that back-to-school season is here. Even in Mecklenburg County, where vaccination rates are higher than in many parts of the state, one in five COVID-19 cases is in children under the age of 18.
Yet only a handful of school districts in North Carolina — including Wake and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools — have made masks mandatory for students in the classroom, despite guidance from the CDC that says masks should be required for everyone in K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. More troubling is this correlation: At least 47 of the state’s 115 school districts have so far said they will allow masks to be optional, and all but one of those districts are in rural or “red” areas that voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election, the News & Observer reported this week.
Experts agree that a vaccine is the best way to protect against the virus and its variants — but children under 12 aren’t yet eligible to receive it. That means masks are our best shot at at keeping kids safe. Still, many remain fiercely opposed to mask mandates, usually singing the tune of “freedom of choice” or “personal liberty.” We have to ask, though: at what point does the price of this “freedom” not to put cloth on your face become too high?
North Carolina might have a lesson to learn from states like Arkansas, where some Republicans are having second thoughts as new COVID-19 cases, many of them among children, surge. Gov. Asa Hutchinson admitted he regrets signing a statewide ban on mask mandates into law earlier this year, and has asked state lawmakers to amend the ban so that school districts may mandate face masks if they choose.
Just last week, however, North Carolina Senate leader Phil Berger called the CDC’s latest guidance on masks “guidance to ignore.” But eschewing mask mandates hasn’t worked out great for at least one school. Union Academy Charter School, which had originally made masks optional for students and staff, reversed course and required them after reporting 14 positive COVID-19 cases and more than 150 students and staff in quarantine as of Monday.
The chance of severe infection in children remains relatively rare, but there’s still a lot we don’t know about the long-term effects of the virus on children’s physical and mental health. Data show that children may display lingering COVID symptoms months after a positive diagnosis, regardless of the initial severity of the disease. That’s a big risk to take on a child’s life.
Like it or not, our government tells parents rather regularly how we should keep our children safe (see car seats, for starters). Masks may be a nuisance, but they also save lives. “Freedom” protesters have a choice to make: abandon your principles for your children, or abandon your children for your principles.
( — Raleigh, N.C. News-Observer)

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