Mississippi pediatricians urge school mask policies, vaccinations due to COVID-19

CLINTON, MS – As COVID-19 cases surge to record numbers in the state, pediatrician members of the Mississippi Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (MSAAP) are reiterating their strong recommendation that schools and child care facilities implement school-wide mask policies for staff and students older than 2 years of age, in alignment with guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics, to help keep children and staff in school. Pediatricians also recommend all eligible staff and children receive COVID-19 vaccines, which reduce infections, hospitalizations, and death from the virus. Currently, children age 5 and above are eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, with some exceptions.

“We know schools have been doing a remarkable job at controlling the spread of COVID-19 while keeping kids in school where they belong. As students come back during the Omicron surge, we need to see the successful strategies that worked last year reinstated, as some schools relaxed these policies in the fall. Measures like school-wide mask requirements and encouraging vaccination will help keep kids in the classroom, where they can learn, play, and grow.” said Dr. Anita Henderson, MD, FAAP, President of the MSAAP.

Cases are rising quickly, with over 17,500 cases statewide on 1/2/2022. Test positivity rates over 25% in Mississippi indicate high community spread. Nationally, hospital admissions due to COVID-19 are rising for children. [i] Currently, 5% of Mississippi’s children ages 5-11 and 35% of youth ages 12-17 have at least 1 COVID-19 vaccine, but too many remain unprotected. [ii] Given these concerns, school-wide mask policies and vaccinations will help keep children, educators, families and communities safe as children return to school after the break.

School leaders have clear authority from the Mississippi Department of Education to implement school-wide mask policies. Even vaccinated students and staff should wear masks during the surge given the transmissibility of the Omicron variant. Well-fitting masks and vaccinations are key components of a layered approach to safety that also includes efforts such as improved ventilation and social distancing.[iii]

Families can use home tests for COVID-19 when making decisions about sending children with mild upper respiratory symptoms to school. As always, families should call their child’s doctor with questions or concerns about symptoms or COVID-19 vaccinations.

[i] https://www.cnn.com/2021/12/27/health/covid-kids-hospitals

[ii] https://msdh.ms.gov/msdhsite/_static/resources/12130.pdf

[iii] https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/k-12-guidance.html#anchor_1625661937509