Imagine for a moment the trauma a parent experiences when burying their child. This is an unfortunate but palpable reality for 940 parents in the United States (US) whose children’s lives have been lost due to COVID-19, according to CDC data as of February 5, 2022. Despite this, some public health experts, politicians, and even physicians believe that mask mandates for children should not be required for school. These individuals point toward the relatively low number of hospitalizations and deaths from the pandemic in children as evidence.
Indeed, children younger than 18 represent only 2% of all COVID-related hospitalizations and 0.1% of all COVID-related deaths in the US. While these numbers remain small, they should be unquestionably alarming for the public to hear, see, and read. Since when has it been acceptable to lose 883 lives to an essentially preventable disease? The death of even one child should raise our eyebrows and galvanize us to take every precaution possible to stop the spread of this disease in our communities.
All too often, as media consumers, we hear the morbid news of the thousands of daily cases of hospitalizations and deaths sweeping through the US due to the ongoing pandemic. It is only natural for us to become desensitized to the vast numbers of patient hospitalizations and deaths occurring nearly every day. It follows that when hearing about the death of 940 children over 2 years, we feel the pandemic has had little effect on our youth, right?
This could not be further from the truth. Unless born with chronic debilitating disease, children are supposed to be healthy and resilient to fighting infection—they certainly are not supposed to be dying from them. Deaths aside, even hospitalizations for children are profoundly concerning. According to US News, more than 760 children are hospitalized daily from COVID-19 (as of January 7)—the largest single number since the pandemic started. This dramatic rise of hospitalizations in children is partly due to the contagious nature of the Omicron variant, as well as a lack of public adherence to policies geared toward controlling the spread of infection.
As an example, Virginia’s newly minted Governor Glenn Youngkin signed an executive order to end mask mandates in public schools in his state. In his executive order, he writes, “There is no greater priority than the health and welfare of Virginia’s children. Under Virginia law, parents, not the government, have the fundamental right to make decisions concerning the care of their children.” If the government can mandate masks for adults while in crowded areas, shouldn’t the government do the same for our children, who are now hospitalized at record-breaking rates due to COVID-19? This rapid rise should undoubtedly raise red flags to our politicians, some of whom are dismissing the real effect of the pandemic due to the relative low numbers of children hospitalizations and deaths.
We must never forget that hospitalizations, serious illness, and death are absolutely preventable from COVID-19, especially in children. Public policy leaders, politicians, and citizens of this country should do all they can to protect our children from the virus; This means encouraging vaccinations, wearing masks, and promoting good hand washing hygiene. Each hospitalization and death in a child is one too many, and we should never lose sight of this when reading or seeing pandemic statistics regarding children. Our kids will be our future leaders and professionals in society, so let’s start treating them accordingly.