The Chief of Pediatric Infectious Disease at Emory University’s School of Medicine says COVID-19 cases in the younger population are trending in the wrong direction. But she says kids can be safer in school if they’re wearing masks. (Aug.10)
Iowa’s classrooms are set to fill back up at the end of August, and COVID-19 is still spreading across the state. But there are steps families can take to lessen the risk of the virus, an Iowa pediatrician said Monday.
Dr. Hao Tran, with University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, fielded a question-and-answer session on Facebook Live on Monday on how children can return to schools safely. Children’s mental health has been severely challenged by the isolation of the pandemic, she said.
“We’re lucky that children haven’t been physically as threatened (by the pandemic), but their mental health has really been threatened,” Tran said. “That’s why we’re so hopeful for in person school and we know that it adds some layer of risk, but I think we can minimize it with the things that we talked about today.”
Here’s Tran’s advice:
How can you prevent COVID-19 in children?
First and foremost, get vaccinated if able, wear a mask if indoors and in a public space, and wash hands frequently is Tran’s advice for children on dodging COVID-19. The advice is very similar for adults, all of whom are eligible for vaccination.
If children show symptoms of COVID-19 — fever, cough, sore throat, loss of taste or smell chief among them — they should stay home and get tested.
The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is approved for all people age 12 and older. Masks are allowed in schools, but Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a law in May banning schools from requiring them.
If children are places where people are largely unmasked, Tran suggested they wear a multi-layered mask and try to minimize exposure. Tran preached masks’ effectiveness as stemming the spread of more than just COVID-19.
“Fortunately, we’ve learned that mask wearing not only protects against COVID-19, but also other cold viruses, and even active environmental allergies,” she said.
She encouraged family members to get vaccinated, too, as a way to protect children too young for their shots and others who are unable to take it.
More: Can Iowa schools defy the state’s COVID mask ban like Florida and Texas schools are?
When can we expect vaccines for children under 12?
Younger children won’t have the option for COVID-19 vaccines ahead of the school year, but Tran said she was hopeful they’ll be approved before the end of it.
She expects Pfizer to release its data on vaccinating 5-to-11-year-olds by the end of September and, if its promising, that could set the stage for deployment by the end of 2021 or early 2022.
Its approval would likely be under emergency use authorization, but Tran said it still faces the same criteria of safety and efficacy as full approval. The emergency approval just allows the vaccine to be released on a quicker timeline.
More: Polk County offers COVID vaccine booster shot to residents with immune system issues
What about break-through cases?
Cases of COVID-19 breaking through the vaccine and making people ill have happened, but they’re extremely rare, and the illnesses are almost always extremely mild, Tran said. Almost 100% of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units are unvaccinated, she said.
When breakthrough cases do happen, people 65 and older are most frequently affected, she said.
The bigger concern about breakthrough cases is if vaccinated people are able to spread the virus.
“The reason that the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommended indoor masking for individuals who are vaccinated is to protect the unvaccinated,” Tran said. “With previous variants we found that people cannot spread the virus if they are vaccinated. With the delta variant, they are able to spread it and that’s why it’s important for people to mask to protect others around them, even if they are vaccinated.”
What about other illnesses, like RSV?
In addition to the rising number of people hospitalized with COVID-19, Iowa hospitals have been also dealing with a surge in another respiratory illness, known as RSV.
While it shares many symptoms with COVID-19, RSV is a different disease, Tran said. It’s typically mild in adults, but can hit older people and young children hard. It’s usually a winter disease, but it’s been driving a spike in pediatric hospitalizations this summer.
More: Iowa COVID hospitalizations mount on eve of State Fair, schools reopening; epidemiologist says ‘surge’ may be coming
“Because people were wearing masks so diligently during those (winter) months, as well as isolating more at home, we did not have an RSV season,” Tran said. “Right now, in August — I’ve never seen this in my 20 years of practice — we’re having a surge of RSV, I believe because people have decreased wearing masks and are out more. Our hospital is full now with RSV, and even ICUs.”
Nick Coltrain is a politics and data reporter for the Register. Reach him at email@example.com or at 515-284-8361.