The Journal Gazette
Sunday, July 25, 2021 1:00 am


Masks remain our best chanceto keep children in school this fall

Dr. T. Anthony GiaQuinta

Whenever I meet a family that has vaccine hesitancy, before we discuss their risks and benefits, it's always helpful to find common ground.

In my clinic, we acknowledge the a priori goal, to keep their child as healthy as possible, then discuss what we know about vaccines to help us reach that goal.

The same is true for masks in school. The goal, and the basis for the successful strategic plans schools laid out last year, was to maximize safe, in-person learning.

We learned much (too much) about the value of in-person schooling during the coronavirus epidemic, even apart from the educational benefits.

Virtual learners in my clinic had dramatic weight gains, spikes in insulin resistance and signs of damaged livers from fat deposits resulting from decreased caloric expenditure and unlimited snacking access.

Sporadic quarantine for random illnesses or COVID-19 exposures led to removal or canceling of hobbies, social activities and sporting events that enhanced self-esteem. This is illustrated in spikes in PHQ-9 scores, an inventory I give kids to monitor their mental health.

And for parents, this created a stressful work-life conundrum: finding a safe, affordable child care option versus attempting the unfeasible work from home/parent/teach combo.

Parental stress funnels into children's emotional instability, creating a powder keg of explosive behaviors from both parents and children. I noticed increases in calls from parents begging for ADHD medications, as well as DCS notifications of child abuse. My clinic saw suicide attempts – and completions.

Just like last year, we need to do everything we can to keep children in school this fall.

Children sacrificed so much last year so that adults could survive while awaiting vaccination.

It's high time adults return the favor. Here's how:

Get vaccinated.

Do it for you. It's safe, effective, and we now know immunization status is the only difference-maker in those hospitalized.

If this doesn't persuade you, think about our kids and all they've suffered through. An immunized community is the only long-term solution to slowing the spread of disease, which will keep schools and activities open for our children.

Second, if your child is eligible, protect them with the COVID-19 vaccine.

I don't recommend any treatment unless the benefits outweigh the risks, and this vaccine is no exception. I continually investigate the safety and efficacy of this vaccine on children, and the consensus is clear: This shot is safe and effective. There are no side effects that outweigh the risks of COVID-19, and here's a huge carrot: Vaccinated children will not have to be removed from activities and school if exposed to the virus.

Finally, send your child to school wearing a mask.

I wish our children didn't need to wear them. But this is certain: An unmasked, unvaccinated population of children grouped indoors will be the reservoir of coronavirus spread this fall.

Pandemics are best understood in retrospect, and we now have undeniable proof that children can be safe from disease spread in school, with masks the most formidable layer of protection.

That's why the American Academy of Pediatrics, an organization of more than 70,000 pediatricians, now recommends universal mask-wearing in schools this fall.

Masks prevent disease spread, and until school-aged children are immunized against COVID-19, every child with a stuffy nose, sore throat or nagging cough will be sent home from school with a symptom of COVID-19 and the burdensome COVID-19 isolation or quarantine protocols.

My office saw record-low numbers of viral illnesses last year because of masks, which undoubtedly kept children in school longer. That is the goal.

I'm disappointed schools are giving families the choice of wearing masks. We don't give them the choice to stand up on the bus. We don't give them the choice to wear shoes or not.

Children deserve the best opportunity to attend school every day. Masks will maximize this opportunity. If given the choice, please choose to mask your child and keep our kids in school this fall.

Dr. T. Anthony GiaQuinta is a Fort Wayne pediatrician and past president of the Indiana American Academy of Pediatrics. 

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