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Pediatricians plead with schools not to drop mask mandates

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(Photo by Alexandra Koch)

As cases of COVID-19 and hospitalizations decline statewide, some schools have done away with mask requirements.

But after three pediatric deaths in the month of September and six since July, the Mississippi chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is pleading with schools not to drop their guards yet.

“It is really concerning that schools are dropping mask mandates and putting children at risk,” said Dr. Anita Henderson, president of the Mississippi chapter of the AAP.

The group also cites the fact that while cases and hospitalizations have declined as a whole, around one-third of total COVID-19 hospitalizations at Children’s of Mississippi are children under the age of 12.

“Acute COVID hospitalizations are increasing again it seems, and it is timed exactly with schools dropping mask requirements,” said Dr. Charlotte Hobbs, professor of pediatric infectious disease.

Most recently, two children between the ages of 11 and 17 died after contracting the virus, according to the Mississippi Department of Health. One of those was a 16-year-old football player from north Mississippi, the Sun Herald reported.

At the beginning of September, a baby died of COVID-19.

“MSAAP urges school boards, superintendents, teachers and parents to continue with masks requirements in all indoor school settings to slow the transmission of COVID-19,” the statement reads.

Currently, 26 school districts are mask optional.

The group points to two studies published in the last week showing that masks in school settings work. The studies were done in Maricopa and Pima counties in Arizona in July and August of this year, and found that schools without mask requirements were 3.5 times more likely to have COVID-19 outbreaks.

Schools in Madison and Rankin counties, along with Ocean Springs School District, have recently rolled back their mask requirements. The Rankin County School District school board voted unanimously to rescind the district’s mask mandate last week.

In a Sept. 23 letter to families, Madison County School District Superintendent Charlotte Seals cited a “significant decline in Covid-19 cases and quarantine” in the district.

“The data now supports a change in our Covid-19 protocol level,” the letter continued, referring to a tiered COVID-19 response system the district developed. “As of Friday, September 24, Madison County will transition to Covid-19 Protocol Level 1, which includes recommended but not required mask wearing in school buildings.”

When asked whether the district will reconsider based on the pediatricians’ plea, Gene Wright, director of communications, deferred to the school board, which will meet Monday.

Ocean Springs School District Communications Specialist Trey Brennan said the district is monitoring data and will “make decisions based on local conditions in our community.”

A spokesperson for the Rankin County School District did not respond to Mississippi Today’s questions on Friday morning.

Since the beginning of the school year, 26,817 teachers, students and staff have tested positive for COVID-19, according to data from the Mississippi Department of Health.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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