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Essentia warns of COVID outbreaks if schools don’t adopt universal masking

“This could quickly overwhelm our pediatric hospitals locally and may end up leading to the deaths of children in our community.”
A Longview ISD students sits in a class with a mask on following the issuance of the district's...
A Longview ISD students sits in a class with a mask on following the issuance of the district's mask mandate.(Jamey Boyum/KLTV)
Published: Sep. 3, 2021 at 10:31 AM CDT
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FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) - In a Sept. 2 letter to school leaders, several Essentia doctors shared their concerns about the possibility of a massive COVID-19 outbreak in schools, should universal masking not be adopted.

“This could quickly overwhelm our pediatric hospitals locally and may end up leading to the deaths of children in our community.” said the doctors.

They said the dominate strain of COVID-19 in the region is the Delta variant and cited evidence stating the variant is nearly twice as transmissible as the original strain that circulated during the 2020-21 school year.

The doctors added the Delta variant has the capacity to make children very sick, pointing to southern U.S. states where 2.4% of hospitalizations were among children. They warned that Dallas ran out pediatric ICU beds leading them to airlift critically ill kids to other states.

“Unvaccinated children (and adults) are at the highest risk of severe illness from the Delta strain.” said the doctors.

The doctors addressed the controversy surrounding mask requirements in schools.

“Surprisingly, the science behind masking is quite immature, but since the start of the pandemic, we have made significant strides in our understanding of the efficacy of cloth masks.” said the group.

They said masks work by blocking saliva droplets containing virus particles, not by blocking virus particles from getting in.

“Our available evidence, while limited, suggests that there is up to a 79% reduction in SARS-CoV2 virus transmission in household settings with early and universal masking. Importantly, epidemiologic modeling studies suggest that the impact of masking is dependent on the proportion of a population that is masked with high effectiveness when there are 80% of the population masked vs. minimal effect when 50% of the population is masked. This modeling would predict that in a setting of optional masks, families of unmasked students are tangibly increasing the risk of virus transmission for all students in the school. This data underlies the recommendation by the AAP and CDC to recommend universal masking for all students.” explained the doctors.

They said to mitigate viral transmission in school districts and avoid having to go to virtual learning, schools should encourage universal masking.

“There are valid concerns regarding the effect that masking has on student academic progress, particularly in the younger grades and in children with special needs,” the doctors said, “While these concerns are important to consider, we have data showing that virtual learning is likely a greater obstacle to academic achievement.”

The doctors said they recognized the pandemic has taken a massive toll on learning, mental health and nutritional status. But, to prevent further loss they urged school learned to adopt the recommendations and mandate masking for all students, staff and visitors for K-12 schools

“In the hope of having in-person and safe learning environments for our children this year.” said the group.

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