Dr. Uzma Hasan
Doctor weighs in on how safe it is to get kids back in school
02:16 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

The polarization surrounding mask mandates is deepening as some state and local officials spar on how to approach face coverings protocols in schools, a debate unfolding as more children contract Covid-19.

In Florida, which has the second-highest rate of new cases per capita after Louisiana, children’s hospitals and staff are “overwhelmed,” said Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease expert at Florida International University.

“The numbers of cases in our hospitals in children and our children’s hospitals are completely overwhelmed,” Marty told CNN’s Jim Sciutto on Friday evening.

“Our pediatricians, the nursing, the staff are exhausted, and the children are suffering. And it is absolutely devastating … our children are very much affected. We’ve never seen numbers like this before,” she said.

A surge in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations, fueled by the rapid spread of the Delta coronavirus variant, is happening in the US as millions of children are returning to schools. It is reigniting conversations on measures to lower transmission so students can safely be in the classroom.

But officials on the state and local levels have not streamlined their back-to-school mask wearing strategy, prompting local districts to create their own rules.

In Texas, the Houston Independent School District’s superintendent said he would move to mandate masks upon students’ return on August 23, despite GOP Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order prohibiting school districts and other local officials from requiring mask wearing.

“We have not seen kids pile into pediatric ICUs across the South like we’re seeing right now,” Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told CNN on Friday.

And as Covid-19 cases climb in Florida, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order last week, telling the state’s health and education departments to create rules preventing local school mask mandates. Two different lawsuits have since been filed against DeSantis over the executive order.

On Friday, Florida’s Orange County Public Schools said it would require students to wear masks – except pupils whose parents opt them out with a signed note. Employees, visitors, volunteers and parents also will be required to wear masks, the district said.

Hillsborough County Public Schools will “require face coverings” for the start of the school year but parents will be able to opt their children out of the requirement, according to a Saturday statement from Superintendent Addison Davis.

“While the outcome may be the same whether we make face coverings optional or required with an opt-out, we believe this decision continues to illustrate that Hillsborough County Public Schools takes public safety seriously,” Davis said.

Masks are optional for employees, Davis said.

Returning to schools safely is possible if mitigation efforts, including wearing masks, are implemented, said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, who heads the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.