As school starts approaching, some pediatricians warned Monday of a difficult year ahead as they see an increase in the number of young people contracting COVID-19 but no increase in children seeking to be vaccinated against the virus.
That, along with other factors such as the spread of the delta variant and the state’s refusal to issue clear mandates on mask-wearing and other restrictions in schools, creates a disturbing combination that could spark chaos in the fall, they said.
“I think it’s going to be a really tough school year,” says Dr. Susan Nachman, chief of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Division at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. “We’re going to see a lot of kids get sick.”
dr. Eve Meltzer Krief, a pediatrician in Huntington who is also a local representative for the American Academy of Pediatrics, said, “We can’t even imagine what the school year will be like. Just the thought of it is quite overwhelming.
“Over the last few days, we’ve been seeing quite a rise” in cases among young people, “and it’s really worrying for pediatricians like me because we know the kids aren’t even in school now and they’re mostly outside,” she said. “We are very, very concerned as pediatricians.”
Only children aged 12 years and older are currently eligible for vaccination against COVID-19.
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In the latest COVID-19 indicators, released Monday, the state hit a seven-day average of nearly 3% for testing positivity, while Long Island registered more than 600 new confirmed cases, continuing an overall upward trend as the delta variant spread.
Krief said Monday she is especially angry that the state is not mandated to require school districts to make students and staff wear masks, instead leaving it to districts to make the decision.
“We believe that school district inspectors have no place in making public health decisions that affect the health and well-being of the children. Those decisions should be made by public health experts and pediatricians,” she said.
She added: “We demand that the school districts mask the children.”
dr. Sophia Jan, chief of pediatrics at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, agreed.
“There should be universal masking mandates because that has been very effective in the last academic season in minimizing the spread in the schools,” she said.
Children who want to meet New York City’s requirement to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by the beginning of the Sept. 13 school year should have their first shot on Monday, she said.
But there were no signs of increased vaccination requests from young people in the Northwell Health care system where she works, she said.
Long Island school districts don’t have vaccine mandates, but eligible students should now also get their first shots if they want to be ready for the school year, medical experts said.
“I wouldn’t say there’s a frenzied stampede” of young people getting shots, Jan said. “We hope there is a mad rush. We are prepared for it.
“We can bend up and down as needed to accommodate any number of families who want to have their children vaccinated. We encourage them to do it.”
She said that “we are seeing an alarmingly increasing number of people admitted to both ICUs and hospitals who are getting younger and younger” and have COVID-19. “Almost all of them are also unvaccinated.”
Krief said she hospitalized an 8-year-old boy with COVID-19 on Monday who has developed pneumonia. “Overall, we’re still working very hard to convince parents to get their kids vaccinated,” Krief said. “We still see some hesitation and reluctance.”
Nachman said they have seen an increase in the number of adolescents getting their vaccinations at Stony Brook in recent days. Many universities require it for students before the fall semester, while parents of high school and high school students want to protect their children because it is unclear whether schools require masks.
Vaccinations and mask mandates are important “because the last thing we want to see children hospitalized,” she said.
In the results released Monday, Nassau County registered 338 new confirmed cases in tests completed Sunday, while Suffolk County had 340, for a total of 678 island-wide. New York City registered 1,934 new cases.
The number of people in the state hospitalized with the virus grew by 63 to 1,225.
The seven-day average for testing positivity has risen from 3.5% to 3.58% to 3.59% in the past three days in Long Island. The state average went from 2.86% to 2.91% to 2.96%.
Across the state, 11 people died on Sunday from causes related to the virus. One of the fatalities was in Suffolk.
Bart Jones has covered religion, immigration and important news on Newsday since 2000. A former foreign correspondent for The Associated Press in Venezuela, he is the author of “HUGO! The Hugo Chavez Story from Mud Hut to Eternal Revolution.”