Duke pediatrician: We don’t have the data to support dropping mask mandate in schools

A Duke pediatric infectious disease doctor is urging parents and school leaders to consider the likelihood that children will be required to wear face coverings when they return to class this fall.

Governor Roy Cooper signed an executive order Friday extending a handful of COVID-19 safety measures, including mask requirements in schools, until July 30.

“We have no research to show what happens when you take a group of unvaccinated children and bring them indoors at this stage of the pandemic,” said Duke Pediatrics Professor Dr. Michael Smith.

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Smith is currently conducting Duke’s Pfizer’s clinical trial, which is studying the effectiveness of the mRNA vaccine in children under 12.

Although Smith said data shows that outdoor gatherings pose a low risk to unvaccinated children exposed, there is no data to show that while COVID-19 is still being transmitted in the community, it would be safe to do so. collect children indoors without masks.

On Monday, about a dozen parents gathered at Dix Park in Raleigh and demanded that their children be allowed to drop the mask at school.

The Open North Carolina group organized the rally billed as “Free the Smiles,” encouraging attendees to share why they think masks should be optional for students and submit signatures to be delivered to NCDHHS Sec. dr. Mandy Cohen.

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“We need to get these masks off the faces so we can really connect with people again,” said Lana Witt, a Raleigh mom. “If people are afraid and they want to wear masks, let them choose to wear one. But those who really want freedom, it’s really our civil rights and our constitutional rights that are at stake right now.”

Another Raleigh mother of four, Julie Savage, said parents should have the option of choosing whether to mask their children.

“We should have the freedom to choose which medical device we use,” she said. “It’s a psychological issue; having a child wear a mask all day is sad.”

According to the CDC, 314 children under the age of 18 in the US have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic; in North Carolina, three children have died.

Smith said one death is one too many, but he is also concerned about other potential side effects of the disease that the medical community is still learning about.

“I think it’s a combination of protecting the community, protecting the teachers, but we don’t really know what the long-term effects of COVID are either,” he said. “So it’s one thing to say yes, children are less likely to die, but we’ve seen several patients in our own practice — I’m an infectious disease pediatrician — who have had significant problems with COVID, even though they never go. to the hospital and never needed a ventilator.”

Smith said he’d be happy to tell teachers and students they won’t need a mask indoors if enough of them have been vaccinated, but he doesn’t expect children under 12 to have access to COVID-19 vaccines before the onset of the next school year.

“We don’t have to wear a mask to prevent a disease that no longer exists,” Smith said. “I don’t think, unfortunately, as we see variants out there, I don’t think we’ll be in a COVID-free space by the time schools start in the fall.”

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