Schools and pediatric hospitals are on the brink. Only emergency action can save kids from COVID-19

Schools and pediatric hospitals are on the brink. Only emergency action can save kids from COVID-19

When Hurricane Ida was bearing down on Louisiana last weekend, it became clear that hospitals had no option but to hunker down and hope for the best. That’s because all across the region, hospital beds—and ICU beds in particular—were full to overflowing from the latest wave of COVID-19 patients. And while it did eventually prove possible to move patients from a small hospital that had its roof ripped off by the storm, there was one set of facilities that lacked even that option: children’s hospitals. 

As NPR reports, children’s hospitals are being crushed by COVID-19 cases, and not just in Louisiana. All around the country, pediatric facilities are critically overfull. That’s true even in areas where the rate of COVID-19 infection isn’t nearly as high as it continues to be in the blazing hot Southeast.

The reason for that is simple enough: Kids are … kids. Sure, there are some genuinely awful childhood diseases, but those tend to be thankfully rare. Most of of the transmissible diseases that afflict children—the diseases responsible for so many tiny markers in older cemeteries across the nation—no longer plague children for a single reason: vaccines. Vaccines have all but ended polio, and turned the threat of mumps and measles into something most children, and parents, never have to think about. The number of intensive care beds available for children is lower relative to adults. That’s a good thing.

Except that the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data shows that when it comes to the delta variant, kids are just as susceptible to COVID-19 as adults. In fact, over the period of study, there were more symptomatic cases of COVID-19 under the age of 17 than there were in adults over 50. Republicans are still repeating the mantra that kids don’t catch COVID-19. They can. They are. And they’re getting very sick.

As of March, even before the delta variant became dominant, the rate of disease in kids 5-17 was equivalent to that of adults 18-49. That’s not just asymptomatic cases where someone tested positive without developing a sniffle—these are symptomatic cases, including cases where those symptoms turned serious. Things are better for kids under 5, with rates of infection about half those of older children, but this is likely because these very young children simply have less exposure, not because they are less susceptible. 

Now the 220 member hospitals of the Children’s Hospital Association are both warning that they’re on the brink of disaster and begging for more federal assistance. In a letter to President Joe Biden, the association thanks him for his efforts to move the nation past COVID-19, but warns that “strong steps” are necessary to prevent a collapse of the pediatric care system. Included in those steps: masking, vaccination, and critical boosts in funding to hospitals that have faced unprecedented burdens.

At the moment, the rate of deaths for children contracting COVID-19 remains low, though not nearly as low as many people seem to believe. However, should pediatric facilities become more overrun, this will not remain the case. Just as with adults, as fewer ICU beds become available, the case fatality rate for COVID-19 among children will approach the rate of those needing intensive care who cannot find a bed. Kids who could be saved, won’t be. 

When talking about a “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” that currently includes every American under the age of 12. The availability of vaccines for those younger than 12 isn’t being delayed by some agency paperwork or bureaucratic dithering; it’s simply waiting on the data. Pfizer has said it expects to turn over results of its testing on children 5-11 sometime this month. That means the vaccines could gain an Food and Drug Administration (FDA) emergency use authorization by the end of the month—October at the latest. However, children, like adults, face a two-dose treatment and take time to reach sufficient levels of antibody response. The truth is that in the best of circumstances, only a fraction of the children in this country will be protected by year’s end.

Numbers and dots represent the average number of infections when a case of each disease reaches an unprotected population.

Vaccines—mandatory vaccines for every schoolchild—are a critical component for ultimately defeating COVID-19 and making it, like measles or mumps, something that still happens, but that does not explode into a national epidemic. But that solution is months away and the crisis is now. There are only two broad actions that can be taken at this very moment to protect children.

The first of these is masks. Masks have demonstrated an ability to greatly reduce the spread of COVID-19, but masks are only effective is mask use is nearly universal. That can’t be achieved with anything other than mask mandates. 

The second option is remote learning. Everyone—including President Biden and tens of millions of parents across America—was anxious to see children return to classrooms this August. But as case counts have reached hundreds and thousands, it has become clear that many of these districts cannot hope to operate normal classes in current conditions. Forcing schools to remain open and penalizing them in ways intended to force in-person teaching rather than remote learning isn’t just a counterproductive strategy, it’s doomed. In-person learning is definitely to be preferred in most cases for a number of reasons, but school districts that are forced to close repeatedly from hundreds of infected children and staff laid low are immeasurably worse than offering regular, predictable, consistent remote instruction. 

To support these actions, the federal government should be taking a number of steps to protect children and help end the pandemic. Harmful state laws and executive orders that are currently putting children at at risk will make everything harder than it should be, but bumping heads over this is absolutely necessary. There are real limits on what the federal government can do, and especially what can be done through executive order, so some of these steps may end up being more suggestion than mandate. But every one of them needs to be discussed.

Several of the steps have already been instituted, but some—especially related to remote instruction—were rescinded in the last few months.

Masks

Promote mask mandates and continue federal suits against states that are blocking local school districts from imposing mask mandates.
Provide federal funding for school districts and individuals with funds that have been blocked by states like Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis is still putting children at risk for what he views as political gain.
Announce federal investigations of school districts like the one in Adrian, Oregon, where, as Oregon Live reports, the superintendent was fired for following the state law on masking.
Provide federal protection for teachers, superintendents, and school board members being harassed and threatened for attempting to enact or enforce mask mandates.

Remote learning

Restore federal funds and support for remote learning.
Provide clear guidelines that indicate when schools should switch from in-person to remote instruction, along with guidance on steps that should be taken before in-person instruction can return.
Defend districts against prosecution from governors and state agencies that insist on in-person instruction regardless of conditions, including providing federal funding where necessary.
Target federal funding to make internet access available to students where remote learning is in effect.

Hospital funding and resources

Provide emergency funding and resources for pediatric hospitals.
Shift military personnel to supporting roles at these facilities to relieve critical health care worker shortages.
Declare a national children’s mental health crisis, and provide emergency assistance for counseling and assistance.

Vaccine mandates

Launch a second round of national vaccinations designed to vaccinate every child under the age of 11 as soon as vaccines become available.
Institute a national mandate that every child 5 or older is required to have at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine before being allowed to participate in in-person instruction, sporting events, or other school-supported activities.

Children and adolescents can be infected with SARS-CoV-2, can get sick with COVID-19, and can spread the virus to others. … symptomatic illness in children ages 5-17 years were comparable to infection and symptomatic illness rates in adults ages 18-49 and higher than rates in adults ages 50 and older. — CDC

From Daily Kos at Read More. This article is republished from DailyKos under an open content license. Read the original article at DailyKos.

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