SAN DIEGO – As the pandemic surges on, pediatric hospitals in some parts of the country are filling up with kids with COVID-19, particularly in states with lower vaccination rates.
The development raises alarms about the dangers the delta variant poses to children as many head back to school this month in districts throughout San Diego County. At Rady Children’s Hospital, eight children have been treated for the virus in the past week and doctors say they’re preparing for a potential influx of young patients if cases continue to rise.
Dr. John Bradley, medical director of infectious disease at Rady, talked with FOX 5’s Kathleen Bade about the risk to children, including which age group is most at risk for getting seriously ill from the delta variant.
“Pre-adolescent, they’re not really at risk of serious disease. Post-adolescents, I really worry,” Bradley said. “Overweight, obesity, is a national issue and San Diego is right there with everyone else. We have some really obese adolescents and I can tell you they’re the ones that are coming in with horrible pneumonia, just like the adults.”
In regards to the back-to-school season, Bradley said it is safe for students to return to school with masks despite the surge in cases locally.
“It’s safe for them to go back because the disease that they get, even with delta, is mild or nonexistent. It’s safe with them to go back with masks because that way they won’t spread the infection amongst themselves and to people in the community,” Bradley said.
Some parents have pushed back on the state’s mask requirement at schools, which is in place for students, teachers and staff while they’re indoors. Bradley said it’s about protecting the larger community.
“I’m a doctor so I can give you the science. Kids, even without masks, if they go back to school and pick it up, they’ll be fine. But if they pick it up, they’ll spread it to friends. Once they’re out of school, they’ll spread it to parents, grandparents,” Bradley said.
He compared the public health measures to stop the spread of the virus to steps taken in response to cases of tuberculosis.
“As a pediatrician for 40 years, we make choices with parents for their kids. And then there’s public health choices that we need to protect all kids and the population,” Bradley said. “Tuberculosis is a really good example and there are public laws to prevent the spread of tuberculosis.”
“So if a child has active pulmonary tuberculosis, we isolate them. We prevent them from going out and spreading the infection to other people. And people accept that. It’s like, ‘TB, oh my goodness, I don’t want to get TB. I’m glad the public health department is protecting me by not allowing active cases of TB to circulate.'”
FOX 5 asked Bradley his response to the argument that masks negatively affect kids’ mental health. He pointed to a mental health specialist at Rady hospital who says it’s simply not true. He added that masks can be aggravating to some children already having issues with stress or socialization but for the vast majority of kids, masking up is just part of life now.
“We don’t want masks. We want the pandemic to go away. We want all the kids to be immunized so we don’t have to wear masks,” Bradley said.
He said he is hopeful a vaccine for kids 12 and younger could be ready by Labor Day or the fall.