Pediatricians concerned about Delta variant as school begins


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The Delta variant is much more transmissible than the earlier variant of COVID and can lead to more serious consequences in children

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Eva Ferguson St. Pius X Primary school students will go back to school on Tuesday 25 May 2021. Photo by Gavin Young/Postmedia

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With new COVID-19 cases crossing 1,000 a day this week, pediatricians are advising families to continue masking and take their own precautions with back to school just days away.

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While doctors admit serious health outcomes for young people are still rare, the lack of county-wide mask mandates in schools and indoor settings raises concerns that COVID cases will only continue to rise.

And children, especially those who have not been vaccinated, will indeed carry the virus home and potentially endanger others in their families.

“We still need to remember that a runny nose or mild cold for one child could mean an intensive care stay or death for others with risk factors,” said Dr. Joseph Vayalumkal, clinical associate professor of pediatrics and infectious diseases at the University of Calgary’s Cumming . Medical Faculty.

“Especially if there are older people in the family, or adults who have not been vaccinated.”

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Vayalumkal suggested that everyone, whether vaccinated or not, should continue to wear masks in smaller indoor environments, from the grocery store to classrooms.

“Especially in classrooms of 30 kids or more, masks are a really good idea,” he said.

“Because this increase will continue. The Delta variant is more transferable and these numbers will continue to rise.”

This week, Alberta Health reported 1,076 new cases of COVID in the province Wednesday, 1,112 Thursday and 1,168 Friday. The province has not counted more than 1,000 daily cases since mid-May.

The number of people requiring hospital treatment for the novel coronavirus has also risen in the past week to 336 on Friday, 74 of whom are in intensive care.

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The rising numbers come weeks after the province announced the lifting of restrictions, which include no longer requiring masks in indoor environments such as bars, shops and restaurants.

In addition, Education Secretary Adriana LaGrange has not issued a masking mandate in classrooms across the province on the advice of Alberta’s health director, instead saying that individual school districts are responsible for implementing those restrictions.

Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange. Photo supplied by

The Calgary Board of Education and the Calgary Catholic School District have since confirmed that all K-12 students must wear masks in class for at least the month of September, with an option to re-evaluate the policy later.

But dr. Shazma Mithani, a pediatrician who treats children with COVID at Royal Alexandra and Stollery Children’s hospitals in Edmonton, is concerned that smaller, rural school districts that may decide not to introduce mask mandates could contribute to more hospitalizations that will ultimately have repercussions for larger urban centers.

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“There are still places in this province, such as parts of northern Alberta, where only about 20 percent are vaccinated.

“And that becomes very problematic if you don’t have countywide mask mandates, in areas that aren’t heavily vaccinated,” Mithani said.

“It makes going back to school potentially dangerous.”

Mithani explained that the Delta variant is much more transmissible than the earlier variant of COVID and can lead to more serious consequences in children.

Data from the US shows that the Delta variant leads to an increase in serious consequences, including in children, with the US Centers for Disease Control hospitalizing an average of 276 children per day in the past week.

“We know that with COVID, the US has always been a little bit ahead of us with every wave. But with Delta, they’re starting to see serious consequences in children,” Mithani said.

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“If you let a virus run wild in an unvaccinated population, such as children under 12, you will see the total number increase and you will see serious results increase.

“That’s the nature of the beast.”

Parents are also concerned about the spread of the Delta variant, even as Calgary’s public and Catholic schools have committed to a temporary mask mandate for students and staff.

“There are many concerns in the community, especially in terms of how Delta differs from the original species,” said Medeana Moussa, spokeswoman for the advocacy group Support Our Students.

“So there’s a lot of trepidation about going back to school.”

CCSD plans to work closely with Dr. Jia Hu, a primary care physician and specialist in public health and preventive medicine, who will help families provide more detailed information about preventing the spread of COVID.

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dr. Jia Hu poses for a photo in Prince’s Island Park. Saturday, June 26, 2021. Photo by Brendan Miller/Postmedia

In a letter to Catholic families this week, Hu stressed the importance of masking.

“As schools reopen in the fall, masking is an important intervention to keep students, faculty and other staff safe — especially in light of the rising number of cases in Alberta and the predominance of the highly contagious Delta strain,” Hu said.

“While there has been a significant amount of discourse, debate and even politicization around masking, the evidence supporting its use to prevent transmission is indisputable.

“There are dozens of published studies on the effectiveness of indoor masking in non-healthcare settings to prevent transmission of COVID-19.”

Students on the traditional calendar with CBE begin classes on Wednesday, while the CCSD begins after the long weekend, on September 7.

eferguson@postmedia.com

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