As Williamson County parents, doctors urged school officials to prevent the possibility of “unnecessary” deaths of children from COVID-19 by mandating masks.
On Monday, several doctors called on Williamson County Public School Board members, private school administrators and elected officials to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for all children returning to school under rising delta variant cases. Those guidelines call on all students aged 2 and older to wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status.
“Hear our voices as the pediatricians caring for these children in Williamson County, Davidson County, in our clinics, our hospitals and our ICUs. As you can see, we are afraid of what will happen in the coming months,” said Dr. Vidya Bansal, a certified pediatrician.
Tennessee currently ranks 49th for COVID-19 vaccinations and 5th for the total number of childhood COVID-19 cases, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
As of July 29, pediatric cases comprised 20% of COVID cases in the state, with 5,573 new cases among children ages 5 to 18, the doctors said. Of the 536 children hospitalized, 10 died in Tennessee, including two children from Shelby County in one weekend.
According to the state’s health dashboard, as of August 1, there were 4,491 cases involving children, representing 21.1% of cases.
These numbers have blown away any preconceptions about the pandemic that only the elderly died, several doctors said.
“We don’t know yet how our children will cope with the delta variant, but we do know that if all 40,000 students got COVID this school year, an estimated 24 of them would die, and this estimate is based on the original strain,” said Dr. Jennifer Ker, a board-certified pediatrician.
CDC guidelines now recommend that fully vaccinated people wear masks in indoor public settings, especially in densely populated locations, and recommend schools implement universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors, regardless of vaccination status.
Several Tennessee school systems have already started their fall semester, but few school systems have implemented mandatory mask requirements, including Shelby County Schools and Metro Nashville Public Schools.
Williamson County Public School officials have yet to make masks mandatory, despite the third place for COVID-19 cases in children, making the variant “more contagious than chickenpox,” Bansal said.
Children under 12 are not eligible for the vaccine, and without a mask mandate, Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey, that children’s hospitals will be full by the end of this week.
Long-term death and health problems pose a real threat to children, pediatricians emphasized.
“Not listening to the doctors and nurses treating these COVID cases and not recognizing that COVID remains a threat in our schools when both are exposed and ineligible for the vaccine is an intentional act of harm to the right to life of the kids,” Bansal said.
“Children don’t die wearing masks,” she added.