The Journal Gazette
Thursday, August 05, 2021 1:00 am


Lessons and plans

As schools reopen, masks essential for children's protection

EDITORIAL BOARD | The Journal Gazette

With Indiana children headed back to school, more than 200 law enforcement agencies are adding patrols to crack down on school bus stop-arm violations and other dangerous driving.

Serious injuries and deaths caused by careless drivers in those situations are not common, but they happen. A woman was sentenced in 2019 to four years in prison for killing three children and injuring a fourth when she did not stop for a bus near Rochester.

Schools and police are rightly working to lessen the risk.

The same logic should apply to protecting students from COVID-19.

Each of Allen County's four public school districts has made masks optional for faculty, staff and students – including in buildings with students younger than 12 who are not yet eligible for coronavirus vaccines. Fort Wayne Community Schools, the largest district in the county and state, and Southwest Allen County Schools have touted recommendations for and encouragement of masks as showing school leaders want to see them worn, but that's just a different way of saying face coverings are optional.

FWCS Superintendent Mark Daniel indicated Tuesday in a livestreamed talk that policies could change early next week, but specifics have not been made public.

Serious illness and death from COVID-19 among young people are rare, but they occur.

Of 776,000 positive infections in Indiana, state data show, 15.5% were in Hoosiers younger than 20.

The same age range accounts for only 0.3% – 41 – of the state's pandemic death toll of almost 14,000, but the youngest patient in Allen County to be killed by the coronavirus was 4.

Low risk is not no risk, and the rising tide of increasing COVID-19 cases in Indiana and across the country show that bulwarks such as mask-wearing will again be paramount. News that vaccinated people can spread the disease – though not at the same rate as the unvaccinated – makes it essential, particularly for kids too young to get shots.

Dr. Mark Kline, physician-in-chief at Children's Hospital New Orleans, called the easily spread delta variant “every infectious disease specialist's worst nightmare.” Louisiana reissued an indoor mask order Monday, after recording more than 11,000 new COVID-19 cases, including 2,000 among children.

“There was a myth that circulated during the first year of the epidemic that, somehow, children were immune,” Kline said during a news conference. “I think there are people who said children can't get the disease, they can't transmit the disease.

“We know that those were fallacies all along, but particularly now that the delta variant has emerged, it has become very clear that children are being heavily impacted by this organism and this pandemic at this point – perhaps more than ever before.”

Allen County Health Commissioner Dr. Matthew Sutter told The Journal Gazette's Niki Kelly and Ashley Sloboda the risk of hospitalization and death among children is “very low,” but cited a recent study showing 4% of kids diagnosed with COVID-19 had significant symptoms months later.

Medical experts with the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have called for mandatory indoor masks, regardless of vaccination status.

School districts in South Bend, Muncie and West Lafayette will return to requiring masks. Businesses and colleges such as Purdue University also have taken that step.

It's time local schools do the same. Our children deserve it.

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