TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa Bay area schools will return to full capacity in-person learning in just one week. The importance of having students in classrooms with social interaction and face-to-face instruction has become clear throughout the pandemic.
Local Tampa Bay area doctors agree that having kids in classrooms is essential but they're worried about their safety in regards to COVID-19's delta variant.
"We need to have kids in school. We know how important it is to have them in classrooms and we've seen virtual learning negatively impact so many of our families in Tampa Bay," explained Dr. Lisa Cronin, a pediatrician at the Children's Medical Center.
Dr. Cronin says there has been a significant increase of children with COVID-19 symptoms in her office.
"We've had our most number of COVID positive children throughout the month of July compared to any other month through the entire pandemic, so it's quite alarming thinking we are at our worst point with seeing COVID in kids and we're thinking about sending them back to school with no masks."
That's why she signed a letter, along with more than 200 other local doctors, asking school districts to encourage masks in classrooms.
Part of the letter addressed to the Hillsborough County School District reads:
"We urge you to reinstate the mask policy, as inconvenient as it is for many people. We understand that students often cannot and do not wear the masks properly all day long, but masks are the only defense that unvaccinated children have against coronavirus. While it is true that COVID-19 causes mild infection in many children, that is not always true. We have seen severe infection and even death in pediatric patients with COVID-19. There is an equity issue to protect children and staff with immune deficiencies, diabetes, and other health problems that put them at higher risk. Some students live in multi-generational homes where elders will be at greater risk. There are racial and ethnic disparities in morbidity with Hispanic and non-Hispanic black children having higher cumulative rates of COVID-19 associated hospitalizations than white children, according to the CDC."
Governor Ron DeSantis signed an executive order ensuring that parents are allowed to choose whether or not their child wears a mask at school, causing many districts in the area to avoid enforcing a mask mandate.
Dr. Lisa Cronin thinks that parents now have to have serious conversations with their children about keeping their masks on throughout the school day. She's a mother of two daughters and will send her kids in-person to school, with masks.
Throughout the pandemic, we've heard that COVID-19 doesn't affect children as much as older people, but the delta variant is changing what we know about the virus.
"I'm not trying to scare people and say kids are dying from COVID. Most of them have mild symptoms, but we have to think about the long term. We are seeing kids that have cardiac damage, kids with long haul COVID, kids that are having problems going forward," said Dr. Cronin.
The hundreds of Tampa Bay doctors that have signed onto the masking message reiterate the fact that for children under 12, masks are the only layer of protection from the virus available.