Healthy You - Every Day

Op-Ed - Pediatric Cases of COVID-19 are Rising—Now is NOT the Time to Say Goodbye to Masks

Debra L. Carter, MD

The COVID-19 pandemic has been wearing all of us down thanks to the Delta variant.  And now we have Omicron on the heels of a summer surge that hit children more than any other surge. 

That surge isn’t going away like predicted or hoped. In fact, we’re seeing cases in children going up. Last week at Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) we saw the highest number of 6 to 12-year-olds test positive for COVID-19 ever—more than 350.  We also saw more children hospitalized for COVID-19 than ever before.  

But the good news at the near two-year mark is we’ve learned what works best against the virus. The tried and trues, if you will. Masks and vaccines. Are they perfect? No. Are they safe? Yes. Are they being used? Not exactly.  

Roughly 20 percent of 5-9-year-olds in Lehigh County have gotten a COVID-19 shot. It’s even lower in Northampton County. We can do better—and we have to do better if we want to put the pandemic behind us and keep our kids in school. 

As a mom and a pediatrician—I understand the importance of informed consent and a parent’s obligation to make the right choice for their child. But it’s vital that parents are presented with the facts—not fear and fiction so easily accessible on social media—when making decisions like this.

Here are the facts.  Vaccines are safe.  Side effects are rare. And the risk of COVID-19 far outweighs any small risk associated with vaccination. Early reports also suggest that booster shots will offer better protection against Omicron which has already been detected in our state.  

If vaccines are our best line of defense, and they are, masks are number two. It is unfortunate and troublesome that at a time when viruses and other illnesses are most likely to spread—we’re seeing fewer people mask up. It is especially concerning in schools—as pediatric cases rise, and vaccination rates remain low.  

Masks work. Both science and logic back that up. Fewer droplets in the air mean less opportunity for COVID-19 and other viruses to jump from person to person.  We’ve been covering our coughs and sneezes for years. Why? Because blocking a cough or sneeze limits a virus’s ability to travel and it’s the polite thing to do.  A mask offers even better protection than your hand or elbow.  Masks limit spread.  That fact does not depend on whether masks are required in school and so your decision whether to wear one shouldn’t either.  The reality is that schools are a place of spread, even more so now with the new variants and less masking. 

No one likes wearing a mask—and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who enjoys getting a shot.  But these choices shouldn’t be made based on whether we like doing it.  These are common sense, evidence-based approaches.  

And let’s remember another thing we learned about combatting COVID-19. Lockdowns work too—and none of us want that again. We know what the short- and long-term impacts of that are.  We know what that did to children—and we must protect them from that too.  And we can. 

Wear your mask.  Have your child wear a mask. When it’s time for your child to get his or her shot, and you to get your booster--let the facts guide your decision.  That fact-based decision will guide us out of this pandemic.    

Explore More Articles