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School has started for local school districts and parents want to know how they can ensure their children are safe from COVID. (Bob Daemmrich)

With most Central Texas schools resuming school this week amid the latest surge in COVID-19 cases, many parents have found themselves with questions about how to best protect their children.


Austonia checked in with Dr. Stanley Spinner, vice president and chief medical officer at Texas Children's Pediatrics & Texas Children's Urgent Care, to get some advice for families as the school year begins.

What do we currently know about how the Delta variant is impacting children?

"It's certainly impacting them in increasing numbers of infection," Spinner said.

There have been more pediatric COVID cases this year than all of last year so far. Austin Public Health reports 6,468 cases this year, with the most in the 10-18 age range.

Spinner said approximately 10% of total positive pediatric cases result in hospitalizations at Texas Children's Hospital. Texas Children's Hospital has between 35-50 children who have been admitted due to COVID-19 on any given day and one-third of those cases are admitted to the ICU, he said. "We're definitely seeing more kids and sicker kids than in the previous parts of the pandemic," he said.

What should parents do to try to safeguard their children?

Spinner said protecting children requires a multipronged approach. The first thing parents should do, he said, is getting themselves and all children 12 and over in their family vaccinated. "With Delta, it's highly contagious. It's very likely they can get infected and infect their children. That's something they have total control over," he said.

He also said wearing masks is critical. "Mask wearing has become such a political issue, but it's clear that wearing a mask protects others from you but also helps protect you from others," he said. He added that families should be careful who they're spending time with. "If you know certain families are vaccinated, having your kids play with those kids and those families is going to be less of a risk." He also recommended following all CDC guidelines such as avoiding large gatherings or visiting high-traffic public areas.

Local school districts are requiring masks this year, despite Gov. Greg Abbott's order against mask mandates. (Bob Daemmrich)

What are your thoughts on sending children back to school?

"It depends on someone's level of risk," he said. "We really, really want kids back in school this year, and we want to try to make it as safe as possible for the kids. We don't want to lock them up at home and keep them from going places, because socializing is so important. I would say that as a general rule of thumb kids are better off being at school. We learned last year that there were so many problems that kids experience, not just with learning but psychosocial. For the vast majority, yes, kids should be in school. The problem is, if you're the parent of a child, you can teach your child to keep his or her mask on, maintain distance from others and keep hands washed, but you can't control what other children do." He added, too, that if a child is immunocompromised or has immunocompromised family members, that changes the equation.

How does the fall look?

In addition to preparing for an increase of COVID cases, Spinner said that hospitals are also expecting to see an increase of RSV (respiratory syncytial virus). "If a school district does not mandate masking, for these kids under 12 that can't be vaccinated, I think we're in for a pretty rough next few weeks," he said.

Local school districts like Austin ISD and Eanes ISD are currently implementing masking. However, court battles in other Texas cities could stop the practice if ruled in favor of the governor's ban against mask mandates.

Spinner added that he is hopeful a vaccine will be released for elementary-age students in the next three months or so.

Pediatric research trials are underway for both the Pfizer and Moderna shot with the first doses for six-year-olds and older expected to be available by the end of the year or possibly by the beginning of this year since the FDA will need to approve it, drug reps told NPR.

Research trials are being conducted for pediatric COVID vaccines. (Pexels)


What final advice do you have for parents, given Austin's COVID surge?

"I think people just need to know this is still a real threat. They need to take it seriously. Kids are not immune to this disease. They can get it, they can get really sick, and they can transmit it. This is not the time to ignore it. Everyone needs to hunker down and get serious about it before we see it get even worse."

The most up-to-date information from the CDC can be found at www.cdc.gov.

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