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Schools and children's clinics are on the sidelines. Only emergency measures can save children from COVID-19

In March, before the Delta variant became dominant, the disease rate in children between 5 and 17 years of age was the same as that in adults between 18 and 49 years of age. These aren't just asymptomatic cases where someone tested positive without developing a runny nose – these are symptomatic cases, including cases where those symptoms became severe. It is better for children under 5 years of age with an infection rate about half that of older children. However, this is likely because these very young children are simply less exposed, not because they are less vulnerable.

Now the 220 member clinics are the The Children's Hospital Association warns both of a disaster and begs for more federal aid. In a letter to President Joe Biden, the Association thanked him for his efforts to get the nation past COVID-19, but warns that "strong steps" are needed to prevent a collapse of the pediatric care system. Included in these steps: masking, vaccinating and critically increasing funding for hospitals that have faced unprecedented burdens.

Currently, the death rate among children infected with COVID-19 is still low, if not nearly as low as many people seem to believe. However, should pediatric facilities become more overcrowded, this will not remain the case. Just like adults, the death rate from COVID-19 in children will converge as fewer ICU beds are available and the rate of those in critical care who cannot find a bed. Children who could be saved will not be.

When one speaks of a "pandemic of the unvaccinated" it currently includes every American under the age of 12. The availability of vaccines to anyone under the age of 12 is not delayed by government papers or bureaucratic hesitation; it just waits for the data. Pfizer has announced that it will release the results of its tests on children between the ages of 5 and 11 sometime this month. That means the vaccines could get emergency approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) by the end of the month, or October at the latest. However, like adults, children must be treated with a two-dose treatment and take time to achieve an adequate antibody response. The truth is that, at best, only a fraction of the children in this country will be protected by the end of the year.

Numbers and dots represent the average number of infections when a case of each disease reaches an unprotected population.

Vaccines – mandatory vaccines for every school child – are a crucial component to finally defeating COVID-19 and making it, like measles or mumps, something that still happens but doesn't explode into a national epidemic. But that solution is still months away and the crisis is now. There are currently only two broad measures that can be taken to protect children.

The first of these are masks. Masks have been shown to greatly reduce the spread of COVID-19, but masks are only effective if mask usage is near universal. This cannot be achieved with anything other than mask mandates.

The second option is distance learning. Everyone – including President Biden and tens of millions of parents across America – was excited for the children to return to the classrooms in August. But as the number of cases has reached hundreds and thousands, it has become clear that many of these districts cannot hope to hold normal classes under the current conditions. Forcing schools to stay open and punishing them into forcing in-person tuition rather than distance learning is not only a counterproductive strategy, it is doomed to fail. In-person learning is definitely preferable in most cases for a variety of reasons, but school districts that are forced to close repeatedly due to hundreds of infected children and laid-off staff are immeasurably worse than offering regular, predictable, and consistent distance learning.

To support these measures, the federal government should take a number of measures to protect children and help end the pandemic. Harmful state laws and regulations that currently put children at risk make everything harder than it should be, but it is absolutely necessary to stumble upon yourself about it. There are real limits to what the federal government can do, and particularly what can be done through orders from the executive, so some of these steps may be more of a recommendation than a mandate. But each of them needs to be discussed.

Some of the steps have already been taken, but some – particularly those related to distance learning – have been reversed in recent months.

Masks

Promote masking requirements and pursue federal lawsuits against states preventing local school districts from imposing masking requirements.
Provide federal funding for school districts and individuals blocked by states like Florida, where Governor Ron DeSantis is still risking children for political gain.
Report state investigations into school districts like the one in Adrian, Oregon, where the principal, Oregon Live reports, was fired for following state masking law.
Provide state protection for teachers, school principals, and school board members who are harassed and threatened for trying to enact or enforce masking requirements.

Distance learning

Restore federal funding and support for distance learning.
Provide clear guidelines on when schools should switch from in-person to distance learning, as well as guidance on the steps that should be taken before in-person lessons can return.
Defend districts from criminal prosecution by governors and government agencies who insist on personal instruction regardless of the conditions, including federal funding if required.
Aim federal funding to provide Internet access to students where distance learning is in effect.

Hospital funding and resources

Providing emergency funding and resources to children's hospitals.
Relocate military personnel to support roles in these facilities to alleviate the critical health care skills shortage.
Explain a national child mental health crisis and provide emergency assistance for advice and assistance.

Vaccination mandates

Start a second round of national vaccinations, which will be used to vaccinate every child under the age of 11, as soon as vaccines become available.
Introduce a national mandate that every child aged 5 and over must receive at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine before they can participate in personal classes, sporting events or other school-based activities.

Children and adolescents can become infected with SARS-CoV-2, contract COVID-19 and transmit the virus to others. … symptomatic illnesses in children aged 5 to 17 years were comparable to the infection and symptomatic disease rates in adults aged 18 to 49 years and higher than in adults aged 50 years and older. – CDC

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