As Schools Prepare to Reopen, Sensible Steps Are Recommended to Reduce Risk

Throughout the pandemic, many children have been infected with COVID-19. Over the past 30-day period ending August 6, 13,438 children ages 5 to 17 were confirmed COVID-19 cases in LA County, representing 9% of all reported cases during that time period.

While most children experience mild illness, there is no way to know in advance how children will be affected by COVID-19. Many children in LA County experienced serious illness and required hospitalization after becoming infected with COVID-19. To date, there have been 1,866 children ages 5 to 17 hospitalized with COVID-19.

Although very rare, COVID-19 cases among children can sometimes result a few weeks later in a very serious, post-infection illness known as Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C), a condition where different body parts become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or gastrointestinal organs. In total, over the course of the pandemic, Public Health has confirmed 314 cases of MIS-C.

Tragically, since the pandemic began in 2020, there have been 12 pediatric deaths – two younger than age 5, three children ages 5 to 11, and seven children ages 12 to 17.

Vaccines continue to provide the best protection against severe illness in children, as children who are unvaccinated are more likely to become seriously ill and require hospitalization. In fact, for the 90-day period ending July 21, unvaccinated children ages 12 to 17, were more than four times more likely to be hospitalized than vaccinated children in the same age group.

Since vaccinations provide the best protection against severe illness, parents are urged to make sure that they and their children are up-to-date on their vaccinations and boosters.

Currently, 35% of school-age children ages 5-11 are fully vaccinated, which is far less than the 79% of school-age children ages 12-17 who are fully vaccinated.

It is important to note that indoor masking is already a required safety measure in many places, including at all healthcare settings, public transit and transit hubs, long-term care settings, shelters and cooling centers, and correctional facilities. Indoor masking also continues to be required at worksites with outbreaks, and is required for all individuals during the 10 days after a COVID diagnosis or exposure when they are around others.

Businesses and employers are allowed to require masks at work, and many have done just that, either by maintaining an indoor masking requirement throughout the pandemic or reinstating one as cases began increasing.

Masking and testing are both powerful tools that can interrupt transmission thereby reducing risk. Masking lowers risk in two ways: It provides what some call “source control” meaning controlling the amount of virus entering the environment right at the source. When people who are infected wear a mask, they exhale far less virus into the air than infected people who do not mask.  Masks also provide protection to the individual wearing a mask, by filtering virus from the air they are breathing. When everyone in a room is masked, safety is enhanced, as there is less virus circulating, and less likelihood that any virus circulating will penetrate the physical barrier of a well-fitting, high filtration mask.

Masks that offer beneficial protection provide both good filtration AND a good fit or seal around the edges. Well-fitting respirator-type masks such as N95s, KN95s, and KN94s offer the most protection because they are made with thicker materials that do the best job filtering out the virus. Note that individuals should not double mask with a respirator.

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Testing to know your status is strongly recommended if exposed, if symptomatic, and right before gathering with others, especially if indoors and when gathering with anyone at higher risk of severe illness should they get infected. If attendees at a gathering have all tested negative prior to getting together, it is much less likely that anyone will be exhaling virus particles into the air. As a reminder, individuals can be contagious for COVID and not have symptoms – that can happen very early in their infection, before symptoms start, or it can happen if an individual has an asymptomatic case of COVID. For more information, visit LA County Public Health website.