COVID worsening – It’s time to do more to protect children
Over the weekend, Oklahoma hit a horrible mark with a record new cases of COVID-19. Oklahoma had 4,741 new cases, almost doubling the previous record high. Combine that with more students returning to in-school learning and we have a potential for a human catastrophe greater than what we already have endured.
There are few Oklahomans who have not been impacted in some way by COVID-19. One of my good friends died from COVID-19 last week. Another friend, who is just over 50 years old and runs marathons, recently had to be admitted to the hospital twice, first from pneumonia caused by COVID-19, then a second time when he experienced a collapsed lung.
We know children are at risk – just this week a Kindergarten student in Texas died from complications due to COVID-19. While we are fortunate to have not seen increased numbers of deaths from this youngest age category, there are millions of children across the United States who are considered high-risk.
The Centers for Disease Control tells us children with the following conditions might be at increased risk for severe illness like COVID-19: obesity, medical complexity, severe genetic disorders, severe neurologic disorders, inherited metabolic disorders, sickle cell disease, congenital (since birth) heart disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, asthma and other chronic lung disease, and immunosuppression due to malignancy or immune-weakening medications.
This has forced many parents to withdraw their children from in-person public school and switch to virtual learning, including one of our own employees here at OICA who has a child recovering from leukemia. For Oklahoma numbers, almost a third of our children are considered either overweight or obese. About 123,100 children have or has had asthma. Between 2003-14, 2,082 cases of childhood cancer were diagnosed.
Today, fewer than half of the schools in Oklahoma maintain a sufficient masking policy, and with 20 percent of schools implementing no policy at all. The result will be students exposed to COVID-19 and carrying it back to their parents and caregivers, who themselves are more likely to be compromised than the children.
Masks save lives. Masking policies are no more inconvenient or restrictive than any dress code policy in place in just about every school district. If a superintendent supports a dress code, but not a masking policy, they are being intellectually dishonest.
We adults make decisions for children on a host of issues, like helmets on motorcycles (authored by a Republican lawmaker years ago), seatbelts for children under eight years old, and Oklahoma law provides for the compulsory education of all school children ages 5 through 18, whether it be public, private or home-schooling. We know for a fact masks diminish the chances of spreading COVID-19 and that is incredibly important now as flu season starts.
It is heartbreaking this issue has become political when it is no more restrictive than any of these other regulations. One very conservative Republican governor, Gov. Gary Herbert of Utah, saw through the political fog and implemented a statewide mask policy in the face of growing COVID infections.
The Oklahoma State Board of Education will hold a special meeting Thursday to discuss policies; requests have been made for the board to have another vote to implement masks in schools. They, like the GOP governor of Utah, must see the facts and help reduce the spread, keep businesses open, and prevent family members from getting sick.
Please join the MASK (Masks Are Saving Kids) Coalition by watching the state Board of Education meeting Thursday. You can view their agenda and get meeting details at http://sde.ok.gov/ or follow the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy social media sites for further details.
About OICA: The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy was established in 1983 by a group of citizens seeking to create a strong advocacy network that would provide a voice for the needs of children and youth in Oklahoma, particularly those in the state’s care and those growing up amid poverty, violence, abuse and neglect, disparities, or other situations that put their lives and future at risk. Our mission statement: “Creating awareness, taking action and changing policy to improve the health, safety, and well-being of Oklahoma’s children.”
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