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Coronavirus

US officials divided over mask rules for schools as child COVID hospitalizations rise

Published: Updated:

The indecision for facemask requirements for schools is deepening in the United States as officials spar on how to approach the matter as the delta variant spreads across the country. Accompanied with a spike in the number of children contracting COVID-19, CNN reported on Sunday.

Florida, which has the second-highest rates of new COVID-19 infections per capita in the US, has seen a surge in the number of children being infected with the virus and admitted to hospital, with hospitals and staff saying they are “overwhelmed.”

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“The number of cases in our hospitals in children and our children’s hospitals are completely overwhelmed,” infectious disease expert at Florida International University Dr. Aileen Marty told the CNN on Friday.

A surge in COVID-19 cases fueled by the highly contagious delta variant of the virus has overwhelmed hospitals in the area.

“Our pediatricians, the nursing, the staff are exhausted, and the children are suffering. And it is absolutely devastating… our children are very much affected. We’ve never seen numbers like this before,” she added, noting that the Children’s Hospital in Miami was at 116 percent capacity for coronavirus patients.

The spike in cases came as the US readies itself to send millions of children back to school. This has reignited conversations for preventative measures in an effort to reduce virus transmission rates. Officials on state and local levels have failed to streamline their mask-wearing mandate for children returning to schools, the CNN reported.

A counselor wearing a protective face mask plays with children as summer camps reopen amid the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at Carls Family YMCA summer camp in Milford, Michigan, U.S., June 23, 2020. (File Photo: Reuters)
A counselor wearing a protective face mask plays with children as summer camps reopen amid the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at Carls Family YMCA summer camp in Milford, Michigan, U.S., June 23, 2020. (File Photo: Reuters)

“We have not seen kids pile into pediatric ICUs across the South like we’re seeing right now,” Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, Dr. Peter Hotez, told the CNN.

In Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s made an executive order to prohibit school districts and other local officials from wearing masks. The superintendent Millard House II of the Houston Independent School District has said that he will move to mandate mask-wearing once students return to school on August 23.

Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis last week issued an executive order to the state’s education and health departments to create rules that will stop mask mandates for schools. As a result, two lawsuits have been filed against him since, the CNN report.

According to a statement from Florida-based Hillsborough Country Public Schools superintendent Addison Davis released on Saturday, schools will “require face coverings” for the beginning of the school year, but parents can choose to opt their children out.

“While the outcome may be the same whether we make face coverings optional or required with an opt-out, we believe this decision continues to illustrate that Hillsborough County Public Schools takes public safety seriously,” Davis stated, adding that masks will be optional for employees.

Teacher Marzio Toniolo took this photo of a staff member at his primary school wearing a mask and protective shield during a lesson, as children returned for the first time since the end of February when Italy’s original ‘red zone’ towns were put under lockdown, adhering to strict regulations to avoid coronavirus disease (COVID-19) contagion, in Santo Stefano Lodigiano, Italy, September 14, 2020. Picture taken September 14, 2020. (Reuters)
Teacher Marzio Toniolo took this photo of a staff member at his primary school wearing a mask and protective shield during a lesson, as children returned for the first time since the end of February when Italy’s original ‘red zone’ towns were put under lockdown, adhering to strict regulations to avoid coronavirus disease (COVID-19) contagion, in Santo Stefano Lodigiano, Italy, September 14, 2020. Picture taken September 14, 2020. (Reuters)

“The places where you see kids in the hospital, the places where you see footage of kids in the hospital, are all places that are not taking mitigation strategies to keep our children safe,” said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) head Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

The CDC has recommended that everyone, including school staff and visitors, wear masks in schools.

Half the US population has been fully vaccinated against the virus, according to the CDC, but children have not yet been cleared for inoculation.

The CDC recommends that people aged two or older wear masks whenever they are in a public setting, traveling on public transport, or gathering around people who are not from the same household. It also suggests limiting children’s presence inside family homes if members of that household are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19, have been immunocompromised or have been in contact with someone who has been infected with the virus.

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