ATLANTA — Georgia pediatricians are urging school systems to follow the recently released guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics to support in-person learning, including universal mask-wearing in schools, when students return next month. The advice was published in an open letter to Georgia school superintendents.
“Ensuring that students safely return to in-person learning is a high priority for Georgia pediatricians,” Dr. Hugo Scornik, a practicing pediatrician in Conyers and president of the Georgia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said. “We urge school districts around the state to be proactive in implementing these guidelines and ensure they are consistently followed.”
Specifically, the Georgia AAP is emphasizing the need for schools to require all K-12th-grade students, as well as teachers and staff, to wear masks while at school.
“We recommend universal masking because a significant portion of the K-12 student population is not yet eligible for vaccination, and masking is a critical measure for protecting whose who are not vaccinated,” Scornik said. Masks are especially important as no COVID-19 vaccine is yet approved for children under the age of 12; and less than 20 percent of adolescents 12 to 17 are vaccinated in Georgia. Vaccination is currently the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic.”
In addition to mask-wearing by all students and staff, the AAP guidelines — which amplify earlier ones the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention released on July 9 — recommend maintaining at least 3 feet of physical distance between students wherever possible within classrooms, enhanced ventilation in schools, COVID-19 screening, handwashing and respiratory etiquette, staying home when sick and getting tested, contact tracing in combination with quarantine and isolation, and cleaning and disinfection.
The AAP and the Georgia pediatricians also strongly encourage vaccinations for all adolescents and adults who are eligible.
“Although COVID-19 is more lethal in the elderly and adults, it is not a benign illness in children,” Scornik said.
To date, more than 4 million children and adolescents in the United States have been infected with the virus, representing about 14 percent of all COVID-19 cases. Thousands have been hospitalized and several hundred children have lost their lives. Additionally, after apparent recovery from the virus, children are susceptible to developing the Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS-C) characterized by severe inflammation of the heart, kidneys and other organs, often requiring care in the intensive care unit. Also of serious concern to Georgia pediatricians is the rapid spread of the COVID-19 delta variant in our state, which is more contagious and severe than the original virus.