The polarization surrounding mask mandates is deepening as some state and local officials spar on how to approach face coverings protocols in schools, a debate unfolding as more children contract Covid-19.
Officials split on masking children in schools as pediatric hospitals fill up with Covid-19 patients
In Florida, which has the second-highest rate of new cases per capita after Louisiana, children’s hospitals and staff are “overwhelmed,” said Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease expert at Florida International University.
“The numbers of cases in our hospitals in children and our children’s hospitals are completely overwhelmed,” Marty told CNN’s Jim Sciutto on Friday evening.
“Our pediatricians, the nursing, the staff are exhausted, and the children are suffering. And it is absolutely devastating. … Our children are very much affected. We’ve never seen numbers like this before,” she said.
Marty noted that Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami is at 116% occupancy for Covid-19 patients.
But officials on the state and local levels have not streamlined their back-to-school mask wearing strategy, prompting local districts to create their own rules.
In Texas, the Houston Independent School District’s superintendent said he would move to mandate masks upon students’ return on August 23, despite GOP Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order prohibiting school districts and other local officials from requiring mask wearing.
“We have not seen kids pile into pediatric ICUs across the South like we’re seeing right now,” Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told CNN on Friday.
And as Covid-19 cases climb in Florida, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order last week, telling the state’s health and education departments to create rules preventing local school mask mandates.
On Friday, Florida’s Orange County Public Schools said it would require students to wear masks — except pupils whose parents opt them out with a signed note. Employees, visitors, volunteers and parents also will be required to wear masks, the district said.
Returning to schools safely is possible if mitigation efforts, including wearing masks, are implemented, said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, who heads the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The places where you see kids in the hospital, the places where you see footage of kids in the hospital, are all places that are not taking mitigation strategies to keep our children safe,” Walensky said Friday.
The CDC recommends that everyone — students, teachers, staff and visitors — wear masks in schools.
And while the CDC says 50% of the total population is fully vaccinated, children under 12 are still not cleared to be inoculated.