Childhood COVID-19 cases and deaths rise in the Mid-South as lawmakers take on mask mandates

Published: Aug. 3, 2021 at 8:36 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - LeBonheur Children’s Hospital reported two more deaths of children because of COVID-19 over the weekend.

Doctors there are recommending masks in schools. At the same time, one Tennessee lawmaker is showing his support in outlawing school districts from mandating masks.

On Tuesday, eight children were in LeBonheur Children’s Hospital with COVID-19. Half are in the ICU. The COVID-19 patient load has more than doubled in the last week at the Memphis hospital.

“I can tell you the severity of the illness they’re having is more severe than we’ve seen in the past,” said Dr. Nick Hysmith, LeBonheur’s director of infection prevention

The hospital has opened up more beds for COVID-19 patients on its respiratory illness floor. The LeBonheur and UTHSC back-to-school task force released its recommendations for the upcoming school year.

It encourages vaccines for those 12 and up, and recommends masks for everyone when community transmission is below 10 cases per 100,000. Between Monday and Tuesday, Shelby County reported 374 new cases.

“So, at this particular time and for the near foreseeable future, we recommend wearing masks for all students,” Hysmith said.

“We want the parents to make the decision for wearing masks in schools,” said Cameron Sexton (R), Tennessee Speaker of the House. “So, I hope school systems do not require a mask mandate for those students and if they do, I’m going to ask the governor for a special session.”

Sexton showed his favor for a law prohibiting district-wide mask mandates Monday. He cited low death rates.

“Survival rate for a child, pick an age, let’s go as high as 20, is 99.99999 percent,” Sexton said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), childhood deaths because of COVID-19 accounted for less than one percent of deaths to the virus in 2020.

LeBonheur has recorded six deaths since the start of the pandemic. Two happened over the last week.

“I think you have to step back and say, how many preventable deaths in children are acceptable,” Hysmith said. “That’s the question I would propose to anyone who is suggesting COVID-19 is not an issue in the pediatric population. I personally don’t think any preventable death to COVID-19 is acceptable.”

Arkansas already has a law prohibiting mask mandates in schools, but Governor Asa Hutchinson is calling a special session Wednesday to amend the law to allow districts to require masks for those younger than 12.

The Marion, Arkansas school district started school a week ago and already has more than 400 people in quarantine because of exposure to COVID-19.

Following Sexton’s comments, Shelby County Schools reiterated its back-to-school plan which will require masks.

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