The debate over masks in schools heats up as kids near return to class.
CLEVELAND — The mask wars are heating up, especially among parents whose kids will be returning to school in August. Some districts have already announced mask mandates, some decided that masks would be optional, while others have yet to make a final call.
Because of the fast-evolving pandemic, we asked Dr. Claudia Hoyen, pediatric infectious disease expert at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital, to respond to some social media comments.
“It’s hard for people to keep up, and when they can’t keep up, they make up [information],” Hoyen said.
Carla on Facebook writes: “So these kids have been in public places, or playing together all summer without masks or social distancing, but because they are going to school they may have to wear masks again???? Makes absolutely no sense!”
“Yes,” responded Hoyen. “Kids have been together all summer, but they haven’t been together all summer with delta,” she said, referring to the highly transmissible delta variant, which now accounts for 80% of UH’s COVID lab cases. It is an alarming rise — double what UH reported just two weeks ago.
Hoyen is concerned Ohio will soon see what low-vaccinated, mask-adverse states are experiencing, as the delta variant is sending record numbers of children to the hospital. Arkansas Children’s Hospital on Tuesday recorded 24 COVID-19 patients, including seven in the ICU and four of them on ventilators.
“It has exponentially grown in the last eight weeks, and so we are in a very different space,” Hoyen warned.
Meanwhile, Chris on Facebook wrote that kids are at low risk, citing only seven COVID deaths in Ohio among people 0-19 years old. There are roughly 2.5 million state residents in that population group.
Hoyen reminded Chris that during the school year, there was remote learning, mandated masks, and social distancing. She says the data show that the measures kept cases low among children.
“Intra-class transmission of COVID between masked students really did not happen,” she said. “One of the reasons why we don’t have the data on kids and COVID is again, during most of this pandemic, kids were kept away from each other.”
Another parent quoted Dr. Jay Bhattachurya, a Stanford University professor of medicine who has often been seen on conservative media outlets, arguing that masks offer little benefit.
“I’d like to see the data that he’s using to make that argument,” Hoyen responded. “What we know is that when people were together, and they were wearing masks, they were effective.”
According to Bhattachurya’s bio on Stanford University’s website, the professor specializes in health care economics and health care policy, not infectious diseases. A spokesperson for Stanford University issued a statement to 3News:
“Stanford Medicine strongly supports the use of face masks to control the spread of COVID-19, and we encourage everyone to follow guidance from the CDC and their local county health department. We also support the freedom of faculty to voice their position. We do not endorse any individual views expressed by faculty, and their views do not represent an institutional position by Stanford Medicine. As an academic organization, we recognize the importance of robust discourse in the scientific process.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics, which represents 65,000 physician members, announced new guidelines last week that all students older than 2 years and all school staff should wear face masks at school (unless medical or developmental conditions prohibit use).