Delta variant: Doctor details how to protect children until vaccination approval

With schools back in session and COVID-19 cases climbing across the country while the highly contagious Delta variant circulates, the focus has now turned to children under 12.

“In my school, we’re doing a lot,” Dr. Lakshman Swamy, an ICU physician at Cambridge Health Alliance and Boston Medical Center who has children under the age of 12, said on Yahoo Finance Live (video above). “We’ve upgraded the ventilation significantly over the last year. We are mandating masks for all the kids and staff. Everyone in the school is going to be masked. Everyone indoors is going to be masked. And we are seriously considering, and I’m certainly in favor of, mandating vaccination for our staff and teachers.”

While vaccinations are highly effective at preventing serious illness and death, they still haven’t yet been approved for children under the age of 12. Dr. Francis Collins, the National Institute of Health (NIH) Director, recently stated that children aged 5-11 may be eligible for a vaccine by the end of the year.

Some areas of the country, meanwhile, have taken preventative measures like mandating masks or vaccinations — while other states like Texas and Florida have outright banned any mandates from being implemented.

“It’s really important to keep the kids masked,” Swamy said. “That’s the one thing we can do right now while we’re waiting for a vaccine approval. That means that you’ve got to really work with your kids to say: How can we make this comfortable for you?”

The CDC is recommending that all teachers, staff, and students practice universal indoor masking regardless of vaccination status. Two states mandated vaccinations for all teachers. Seven other states and D.C. are requiring teachers to either be vaccinated or undergo regular testing.

“If you don’t get vaccinated, you will get COVID at this point,” said Swamy. “I don’t think there’s any avoiding it. So vaccination is just as important as ever.”

According to the New York Times, the most vaccinated states “have seen relatively flat pediatric hospital admissions for COVID-19 so far” while child hospital admissions are roughly four times as high in the least vaccinated states.

'It’s really important to keep the kids masked'

More than 5 million children have tested positive for COVID-19, as of Sept. 9, with roughly half a million new cases over the past week, setting a new record. 

Children overall represent 15.5% of total cases since the pandemic began, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, and now account for 28.9% of weekly reported cases.

“The mask is, in many ways, a ticket to be able to do more things potentially,” Swamy said. “Still, being in a crowded indoor space, I don’t love it. I think to some degree, we accept a risk of that with school. But in our schools, we saw that the enhanced ventilation and everything else we did made a huge difference. And when we were doing screening, testing of asymptomatic kids and staff, there was no COVID in there even while COVID was high in the community. So there’s a lot we can do. And schools, I think, can be safer.”

Are masking, ventilation, testing, and other measures enough? Swamy doesn’t have a clear answer.

“The school is part of the community, so I think a big part of it is what we do with our kids outside of school too,” he said. “I recently attended a wedding. My kids only went to the outdoor parts. When I was indoors, I was wearing my N95. This is a highly vaxxed population that I’m with, but I think that we need to take Delta very seriously. I think it is more important than ever to say that Delta is different.”

Other basic measures to consider, according to Swamy, include avoiding indoor settings as much as possible.

“Outside of schools, you’ve got to think hard: Can this be done outside?” he said. “We’re still in the tail end of summer here. I think we should still be doing everything outside as much as possible. When we’re inside, can you keep it a little less dense? Can you keep the time down? Can you keep everyone masked?”

Swamy added that there are “a lot of things that we can do. I still think there’s a safe way to have kids in school. But that takes effort, that takes leadership, that takes financial support. It takes all of that.”

Adriana Belmonte is a reporter and editor covering politics and health care policy for Yahoo Finance. You can follow her on Twitter @adrianambells and reach her at [email protected]


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