Vermont Pediatric Specialists Urge Universal Masking

Pediatric specialists from UVM Children’s Hospital reiterated a call for universal masking at schools, and outlined other ways parents can help protect their back-to-school children from the highly contagious Delta variant now circulating widely in Vermont. Rebecca Bell, M.D., and Lewis First, M.D., shared their recommendations in a live Q&A that aired on Facebook August 14. 

“[Universal masking] is such an easy thing to do, but it takes all of us to make it work, to set the example and do what it takes to keep our kids healthy and in school,” said First. “Especially when we don’t yet have a vaccine for children under 12.” 

Bell, a critical care specialist and current chair of the Vermont chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) echoed that sentiment. “AAP Vermont does recommend universal masking in schools. We’ve made this very clear. This is the broad consensus from AAP and CDC nationally, to AAP Vermont.”

Bell said the pediatricians’ group has been meeting with superintendents, school boards, school nurses, and teachers all over Vermont in advance of the school year to send a clear, consistent message recommending universal masking. “Everyone really is on the same page with this,” she said.

First acknowledged that the policy decisions to require masking rests with local school boards. “We know that schools can make this decision, and that’s why we’re coming on pretty strong about universal masking in all of our schools for everyone over 2,” he said.

Delta Contagiousness Driving Masking Guidelines

The potential for people who are asymptomatic to spread the Delta variant is driving these recommendations. “If I’ve got it and I don’t know it’s in my own body, that’s not good enough, I need to protect everyone else,” First said. “So when I’m wearing that mask out in public, I feel like I‘m helping to keep this community healthy. I believe that’s the framework. We’re in this together.” 

First encouraged parents to “set the example” for their children by wearing masks in public places, even if they’re vaccinated. He said to tell your children “we’re doing this not only to protect ourselves but to protect the people we care about.” 

“Set a good example: wear your seatbelt, wear your  mask. It’s not painful, and it’s the simplest way – along with vaccines — to keep this community healthy and get our kids to do all the things they would like to be doing.”

~ Lewis First, M.D., UVM Children’s Hospital

Advice for Households with Unvaccinated Kids

Several parents asked about “mixed-status” families, where one or more members are not yet eligible for vaccination. For everyone else, Bell said: “Get vaccinated, that’s the most important thing.” In addition, she advised several guidelines to keep family members safe. 

  • When you go to indoor spaces, wear a mask. 
  • If you have any symptoms, go get tested immediately, even if you’re vaccinated. 
  • After any type of higher-risk indoor gathering, or if you travel, get tested. 

Bell stopped short of recommending that vaccinated adults mask up around unvaccinated children when at home, provided these other precautionary measures are being taken.

Bell has two preschool children herself who are too young to be vaccinated and are in childcare. “My kids wear masks all day long in childcare. When I’m out and about in public I wear a mask. It’s just a small thing for  me to do. I feel really well protected – really well protected — from severe disease, but I don’t want to pass this along to my children, and I don’t want to have to miss work. That’s the way I approach thinking about how I could potentially be a vector.”

Find Resources for Back-to-School Wellness

Watch the August 18 Facebook live Q&A with UVM pediatric specialists Rebecca Bell and Lewis First. The Q&A covered topics such as universal masking at school, what’s the hold-up with vaccines for children under 12, and what to do if your child is sick. 

Read Going Back to School During Delta, by Vermont pediatric critical care specialist Rebecca Bell. She is the current chair of the Vermont chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and a strong advocate for universal masking at school. 

From the CDC, Helping parents and young children transition back to school, lists guidance and links to resources to promote mental well-being during the back-to-school transition.

Preparing Your Child to Go Back to School In Person, from the Child Mind Institute, has practical guidance for navigating these unprecedented times.

Mental Health America offers a free back-to-school toolkit, Facing Fears, Supporting Students. The informational materials aim to help students, parents, and school personnel recognize how feeling unsafe can impact mental health and school performance, and what can be done to help young people who are struggling with their mental health.

For Kids: Stand Up to Stress! is a coloring and activity book for kids ages 8-12, from the National Institute for Mental Health. This free, printable coloring and activity book teaches children about stress and anxiety and offers tips for coping in a healthy way.

Find more tips and resources in our other parenting blogs – see suggestions below, or search for parenting in the search box.

Blog written by Brenda Patoine on behalf of VCN/Vermont Care Partners for COVID Support Vermont, a grant funded by FEMA and the Vermont Department of Mental Health

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