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Back to School in the time of COVID-19

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate, to mask or not to mask, to go to school in person or do virtual school again…???

By now many of us are confused, scared and not sure what to do for our children. With all this confusion, there are many things we feel like we can agree on. Let’s all agree that virtual education does not work well for the majority of our children for various reasons. Let us all agree that our children need to go back to school and to their activities and sports in person with their friends and teachers, and this needs to be safe for both students and their teachers. As everyone has to make these decisions for yourselves and your family, let us consider some facts.

• The Delta variant is more contagious and causes more serious illness. In fact, it spreads as easily as does chickenpox. (Many of you may not even remember the era of chickenpox and how easily it spread- BECAUSE THE VACCINE ALL BUT ERADICATED IT) The Delta variant has increased from 3% to 93% of Covid infections in the USA.

• We are experiencing our fourth surge of Covid since the onset of the pandemic over a year and a half ago.

• The Covid vaccine is currently approved only for people 12 years of age and older.

• There has been a sharp increase of new cases of Covid in children. There were 71,000 new cases in the last week of July compared to 40,000 the week before.

• Close to 50% of children admitted to the hospital due to Covid don’t have pre-existing conditions.

• 400 children have died from Covid since the beginning of the pandemic. While this number does not seem to be high compared to the 600,000 total deaths in the USA, 400 is twice the number of deaths in children due to influenza in the season 2019-2020. 400 children are not supposed to die.

• The Covid virus does mutate more as it goes through more people. This is a well known fact about virus behavior. If we don’t stop the spread of the virus, it will continue to mutate.

• While vaccines don’t provide 100% protection, they do protect against severe disease, hospital admission and death. At the time of this article all of the patients admitted to our hospital with Covid have been non-vaccinated.

• Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is rampant this summer, resulting in tremendous flooding of our hospitals and making it difficult to find a pediatric bed in many children’s hospitals all over the nation. This might not seem to be relevant to Covid, however the occurrence of RSV and Covid at the same time is presenting a true challenge. Imagine if your child needs to be admitted due to Covid, but hospital beds are unavailable.

• Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome of Children (MIS-C) is a very rare complication of Covid that has claimed the lives of 37 children since the onset of pandemic.

• Many previously healthy teenagers struggle now with post-Covid syndrome (long haulers) consisting of fatigue, headache, muscle pain and dysautonomia. This unfortunately is not covered by the media very well. Post-Covid syndrome can happen even after a mild case of Covid. Post-Covid syndrome can be debilitating and last a long time.

• Covid vaccines are a safe and effective way to end this pandemic.

This pandemic cannot end by reaching a herd immunity, as this would be very costly to our society and humanity. We did not eradicate smallpox and polio by reaching herd immunity, we eradicated them by immunizations.

This is in no way meant to try to frighten parents, but we should consider FACTS when deciding how to create a safe school environment for both our students and teachers. If students and teachers are not in school due to illness or quarantine requirements this will mean we will have not choice but to return to virtual education.

We highly recommend that all children older than 12 years should receive the Covid vaccine unless they have a true medical contraindication.

We believe that children 2 years and older, regardless of their vaccinated status, should wear a mask while at school to protect themselves, other students and teachers. It is reasonable to ask "why mask the vaccinated?”. But, remembering that no vaccine has 100% protection, and vaccinated children may have an asymptomatic infection that can be spread to their younger siblings, family members and teachers that are not yet vaccinated, it becomes very important for everyone to wear a mask when around others, regardless of their vaccinated status. The recent surge of the Delta variant makes masking the vaccinated an even more important issue; one we did not face at the time the Covid vaccine initially became available.

We are anticipating that there will be a change in the recommended age for the Covid vaccine at some point in the future. And, of course when the pandemic situation improves our recommendations will change. We look forward to that time. Finally, don’t forget your flu vaccine this fall!

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