Wisconsin Pediatricians, State Superintendent Plead For Universal Masks In Schools As Cases Continue Rapid Rise

Hundreds of Wisconsin doctors who care for children are calling on Wisconsin schools to introduce masking and other disease-limiting measures as the number of COVID-19 numbers rises again across the country.

“This is really a call to school administrators and other officials in schools, and especially to parents and anyone whose decision-making about masks in schools,” said Dr. Ellen Wald, a pediatrician at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who is one of nearly 500 doctors to sign UW Health’s open letter released Wednesday. “We think this is such an important intervention.”

Wald stressed that masking everyone in schools has universal support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and other health agencies.

Doctors say the delta strain of COVID-19 is in many ways a brand new disease — it’s more contagious, for example, and can spread even among vaccinated people — meaning schools and families should be even more cautious going into this school year.

“This year is a very different beast than last year,” said Dr. Amy Falk, a pediatrician in Wisconsin Rapids. “It’s really tearing through communities, making little kids sick, things we didn’t see last year.”

Falk and her team in Wisconsin Rapids led one of the CDC studies that found that transmission of COVID-19 in schools was very low as long as everyone wore masks and distanced themselves as much as possible.

“We see school districts making terrible decisions, which is to pretend it’s 2018 and go back with masks, citations, optional and little distance,” she said. “I just don’t think we have the luxury of doing that — we’re still knee-deep in a pandemic, I’d say worse off than last year.”

Several school districts recently voted to require masks for at least the early part of the school year, including in Janesville and neighboring Milton. The school district where Falk led the investigation requires masks for preschool through eighth grade and makes them optional for high school students, though board members have been criticized for needing masks in the first place. Many school board members who have pushed for masks and other COVID-19 precautions have faced bitter election challenges, recalls, verbal abuse and meetings so unruly they had to be shut down.

“School districts will need to understand their priorities,” said Dr Sarah Lulloff, an infectious disease specialist in Green Bay. “We know from the knowledge that masking limits the transmission of the virus, and especially in children and age groups who are not yet vaccinated, they definitely transmit the virus if they become infected.”

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State Superintendent Jill Underly also released a message Wednesday calling on communities to wear masks and for anyone eligible for the vaccine to get it.

“Across the country, we’ve seen schools open with limited restrictive measures forced to close just a few weeks — or even days — into the new school year,” she said. “We all want our schools to open. We must collectively do our part to ensure that is possible. And it is up to us to do everything in our power to serve the children, families and educators of Wisconsin .”

Lulloff pointed out that universal masking and distancing can prevent children from wasting hours of class time in quarantine, even if they aren’t sick. According to CDC guidelines, if a student tests positive but they were only around another student with their masks consistently and correctly on and kept at least 1 meter apart, that second student would not have to quarantine.

“The goal for most families, students, educators, and school districts is to have a personal school,” says Lulloff. “We know that one thing that helps keep the school in place is if there are a lot of safety practices, including masks.”

Falk, in Wisconsin Rapids, noted that when students and staff remained masked last year, her team saw not only low levels of COVID-19 transmission, but also the near disappearance of infections commonly spreading among students, such as the seasonal flu, respiratory syncytial virus and streptococci. throat.

“It was surreal, I didn’t see anything — my kids weren’t sick, we didn’t see an ear infection after ear infection like a typical February,” she said. “That makes a big difference — that’s less time off from work, that’s less time feeling sick and miserable outside of school. That’s less time potentially getting really sick.”

Wisconsin has seen an unusual spike in hospitalizations for those illnesses, especially RSV, during the summer. Wald, the pediatrician at UW-Madison, said they are likely to spread in schools without masks and could lead to students developing COVID-like symptoms.

“If a child presents with a runny nose, cough, or sore throat, we can’t distinguish COVID from a common cold, and so all those kids need to be tested, they need to be quarantined until those results are available,” she says. Children are going to lose valuable time from school.”

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