Pediatricians urge Saginaw school districts to require masks

SAGINAW, MI – In her time working in the pediatric intensive care unit, Dr. Nicole Sinclair has never seen patients worse off than they were during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sinclair, a pediatric intensivist at Covenant Medical Center Harrison in Saginaw, said some teens with breathing problems ended up in her ward over the course of the pandemic. But those who suffered the worst were children dealing with childhood multisystem inflammatory syndrome, or MIS-C, a rare condition that can follow COVID-19 infection.

“They were the sickest kids I’ve cared for, at least in the past five years,” Sinclair said. “We’re usually very good at holding on to patients at Covenant, but we had to send them to Detroit for advanced life support. They were so sick.”

Those experiences motivated Sinclair to write a letter encouraging major regional school districts to demand masks in the face of the more contagious delta strain of the coronavirus. Eight other Covenant-affiliated pediatricians signed up to repeat her message.

“If we look at Florida and Texas, their pediatric ICUs are currently overrun with patients,” Sinclair said. “The covenant is a 10-bed pediatric ICU, our capacity could very easily be overwhelmed if our numbers start to increase like in the southern parts of the country.”

The group, made up of Covenant staff, a private practice, and Central Michigan University Health physicians who see patients in the Covenant, call themselves Saginaw Community Pediatricians, Sinclair said. They sent their letter to the school boards and inspectors of Saginaw Public Schools, Saginaw Township Community Schools and Midland Public Schools in mid-August in hopes of influencing their masking decisions, she said.

The Saginaw County health department was also sent the letter, she said. Sinclair, an Oakland County resident, hoped Saginaw County would institute a similar masking requirement for its schools.

“I think they should be proactive about it and not wait for an outbreak or have to quarantine a large number of kids and do virtual learning,” Sinclair said. “Kids generally like consistency, and we know it’s best for them to be personal. The safest way for them to be personal is to wear a mask.”

Saginaw Public Schools requires masks for all students and staff to kick off the fall semester. Midland Public Schools began demanding masks for students and staff in grades K-6 after a significant number of cases and quarantines surfaced in the first two weeks of classes.

Saginaw County’s other schools went ahead without mask requirements for the fall semester, a decision Sinclair says is a mistake. The American Board of Pediatrics and the CDC recommend universal indoor masking as part of a layered strategy to minimize the risk of infection, especially in children under 12 who are not yet eligible for vaccination. While some “loud voices,” such as in neighboring Genesee County, strongly oppose masking, Sinclair said she believes leaders have a duty to protect children above all else.

“We hoped that by sending a letter on behalf of pediatricians, they would follow the expertise of medical professionals,” Sinclair said. “If they don’t have social distancing and don’t have the vaccine, masks are one of the few things that can prevent the spread.”

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