To the editor of the Journal:
I strongly encourage children to wear masks for back to school this year, especially children under 12 and older unvaccinated children. The masks limited the spread of COVID last year, leading to successful in-person education for our children when many elsewhere were virtual most of the year. This year, we are benefiting from the vaccination of most of the teachers and some children, but Delta’s contagiousness is already proving itself in unmasked schools.
Even if we wish, we are not yet done with COVID.
My family has recent experience in highlighting risks locally. Our 3-year-old son developed symptoms in kindergarten and later tested positive for COVID. Her school hall closed and we took our children away, but four days later our third grader tested positive. Masked school-aged children were visiting just before my son developed symptoms, and none of the visiting children became ill. My wife and I have been vaccinated for over six months and neither of us tested positive. The masks work. Vaccines work.
Although most infected children don’t get very sick, about 1 in 100 are hospitalized, pediatric hospitals are filling up in the South, and early studies suggest Delta may be slightly worse for children. Our communities also include many children I care for – children with congenital heart disease, developmental delays, genetic abnormalities, weakened immune systems and other high risk conditions. Many have stayed out of society and school over the past year, and the loss of education and related services has been devastating for them. We know they are at a higher risk of complications from COVID, and if they cannot yet be vaccinated, they are relying on our community to keep them safe.
Even if children don’t get sick, missed school during isolation and quarantine is detrimental, especially when children are already trying to make up for missed education. Masks can have social and emotional impacts on children, but the harms of quarantine and potential medical risks should be of more concern, at least until all children can be vaccinated.
I encourage you to engage your children in this discussion. They can play an active role in keeping themselves and others safe, reduce the risk of quarantine and cancellation of extracurricular activities, and end the pandemic sooner for all of us. When eligible, I encourage having similar discussions about vaccines. I have had these discussions with my own children and patients and I hope you have too.
JAMES REINHART, MD