How to keep kids in school safe from COVID-19

AP Poll Virus Outbreak Schools
Students wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, elementary school students line up to enter school for the first day of classes in Richardson, Texas.
LM Otero | AP

More and more kids are being infected with COVID-19, and many are winding up in the hospital.

On Sunday, the Children’s Hospital Association published an open letter signed by 70 healthcare leaders from across the country emphasizing the growing concern over COVID’s effect on pediatric healthcare.

The letter ran as a full-page ad in The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. It called for immediate action by the Biden administration, Congress and the American people to relieve the strain on the pediatric safety net, recommending a COVID-19 vaccination push among other measures.

Dr. Marc Gorelick, president and CEO of Children’s Minnesota, was one of the signers of the letter. “There’s this thought that kids don’t get COVID, and that’s clearly not true,” he said.

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According to data from the American Academy of Pediatrics, Minnesota is one of 17 states with over 100,000 cumulative child cases of COVID-19.

“We can’t really take it for granted that somehow they’re protected. We need to protect them,” Gorelick said.

As kids return to school this fall, “the most important thing … is that we get them back to in-person learning and that they do it safely,” Gorelick said.

Gorelick urged families and schools to practice social distancing, vaccinate all who are eligible and adopt universal masking.

Parents need to know that “after vaccines, masks are the most effective way to keep their kids and their families safe,” and that there is “no factual basis” for claims that masks interfere with children’s breathing, Gorelick said.

If their school has not adopted a mask requirement, Gorelick recommended parents try talking to school officials. Parents can point to mask guidelines from national and local health organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Minnesota Department of Health.

COVID-19 isn’t the only rising threat to children’s health. Record numbers of children are currently in the hospital due to other respiratory viruses like RSV.

Such viruses were suppressed by COVID-19 safety measures until they were relaxed this spring, Gorelick said. Now, hospitals like Children’s Minnesota are seeing out-of-season patient loads equaling the peak that usually comes in December and January, further straining the system.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.