Top Pediatrician Worries Overriding Mask Mandates Will Put Utah’s Kids At Risk
SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake County Council’s decision to send students back to school with no mask mandate comes as the number of children hospitalized with COVID-19, nationally, is higher than at any point in the pandemic.
Last week, there were 94,000 new cases of COVID-19 in children and 16,000 children were hospitalized. One of Utah’s leading pediatric infectious diseases experts said it’s a bad idea to overlook the science and overturn the order of the county health department.
Children’s hospitals in other parts of the country are seeing record numbers of children sick with COVID-19, mainly because of the rapid spread of the delta variant.
Dr. Andrew Pavia, chief of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at University of Utah Health and director of hospital epidemiology at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital, fears the same will happen here if children return to the classroom unmasked.
“We do know that school can be safe in person. But, it can’t be safe if we don’t have universal masking,” Pavia said in a media briefing.
Primary Children’s Hospital is already seeing a moderate increase in pediatric COVID-19 patients here, Pavia said. Two children are critically ill with COVID-19 and a few more have been hospitalized with the virus. But there is a crunch on pediatric beds because construction has reduced hospital capacity by 20%, and there are children in the hospital due to accidents and illness.
“Primary Children’s currently, essentially has no available beds,” Pavia said. “We are into our surge capacity.”
That means there are no longer any single rooms, and they are using other areas of the hospital to treat children. He said the hospital is already stressed without a major surge from COVID-19.
“This is all before school starts. Last year, when school started, we saw an enormous surge of transmission first in the universities, and then in schools,” Pavia said.
Right now, there are 2.5 times more children diagnosed with COVID-19 compared to this time last year, when children were heading back to school with everyone masked, which is what Pavia still recommends.
“I usually try to keep emotion out of these briefings. It’s very hard for me,” Pavia said. “I feel very, very strongly that we are about to put our children at great risk.”
He said it’s about making responsible decisions.
“As doctors and public health officials, we take responsibility for trying to protect the health of kids. I think if people overturn those recommendations, and kids get very sick or die, they have to realize it really is their responsibility now,” Pavia said. “They should think very long and hard about that.”
Pavia said students should all be masked, at least until this surge of the delta variant subsides. He’s urging vaccination for everybody eligible to protect those who cannot be vaccinated.
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