There has been a rapid increase in the number of children receiving COVID-19 diagnoses over the past month, a disturbing trend being witnessed across the country as kids head back to school.
The American Academy of Pediatrics reported that, between August 5 to 26, more than 500,000 children received a positive diagnosis of coronavirus. That’s a significant rise compared to months prior. Indeed, for the single week of August 19, there were over 203,000 positive tests identified among children, a substantially higher number than the 8,500 cases reported during an earlier one-week study done in June.
The alarming trend has health experts worried, and many are renewing calls for school districts to require masks for children, especially for those who are under the age of 12, as they are as yet ineligible for the vaccinations to protect against COVID.
“The virus is raging in all these children who are unvaccinated, which is why in schools mask mandates are so important. They have no other protection,” said CNN medical analyst Jonathan Reiner. “They’re literally sitting ducks.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that every school district in the country implement masking and social distancing standards within school buildings to prevent the virus from spreading. A number of districts across the U.S. have instituted such rules, but many have not, and a number of states with Republican governors have actually banned districts from being able to do so even if they want to.
The situation is becoming dire for children in many of those states, particularly because this round of COVID, which includes the Delta variant of the virus, seems to be affecting children more than it did a year ago. In Texas, several hospitals have reported that they have zero pediatric ICU hospital beds available because of the spike in COVID infections among children. Florida is facing similar challenges, and as a result of increases in COVID numbers, at least two school districts have already had to close their doors until next week.
As the number of coronavirus diagnoses among children increases , more evidence about the efficacy of masks to prevent its spread is becoming available. A randomized controlled study in Bangladesh, for instance, found a 9.3 percent reduction of coronavirus diagnoses when just 7 in 25 individuals in the study were masking up. That on its own is an encouraging statistic, but the effectiveness of masking would be many times greater if it were near-universal, one of the study’s authors said.
“I think this should basically end any scientific debate about whether masks can be effective in combating COVID at the population level,” Jason Abaluck, an economist at Yale University who was involved in the study, told The Washington Post.
However, in spite of that study and others like it showing near-definitive proof that masking is an effective way to prevent the spread of coronavirus, proponents of state mask mandate bans are digging their heels in, insisting that they have a right to ban such rules from being enforced at the local level.
Florida Education Department Commissioner Richard Corcoran, discussing a lawsuit brought by parents against the state’s mask mandate ban, said his department would appeal the decision in the near future.
“I’m very confident they’re going to rule on our side because what we’re doing is absolutely within the Constitution, within the law,” Corcoran said to Fox News.
Yet in the ruling to which Corcoran is referring to, Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper said the school districts were following the law, as their actions didn’t “infringe on the fundamental rights of a parent” as the legislation states.
The law, which was enacted in June with Gov. Ron DeSantis’s (R-Florida) signature, says that districts cannot make decisions for students that affect their upbringing, education, health care choices and mental health “without demonstrating that such action is reasonable and necessary to achieve a compelling state interest.” In making his ruling last week, Cooper noted that the state failed to show how masking rules were unreasonable while pointing out that the ban was violating the same Parents Bill of Rights that it was aiming to enforce.
“My ruling in this case, if you want to put it in one sentence, is, I am enforcing the bill passed by the Legislature and requiring that anyone who uses that bill to follow all provisions and not part of the provisions,” Cooper said.