Illinois students should prepare to mask up when they head back to school in August

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By: Ted Dabrowski – WIREPOINTS

Illinois institutions, both public and private, continue to cut back on their mask mandates in light of increasing vaccinations and collapsing case numbers. Illinois’ schools are a notable exception. The Illinois State Board of Education says it expects mandated mask-wearing to continue in the fall.

But is it time for the masks to finally come off? Data from the CDC, IDPH, and the Cook County medical examiner all point to “yes.” All of Illinois COVID data are on a severe downward trend, with case and hospitalization counts the lowest they’ve been since the beginning of the pandemic.

On top of that, we know the remaining threat to children is infinitesimal, that the elderly – those most at risk – are largely vaccinated, and that teachers are at low risk as well.

Below we break down each point in turn:

There’s near zero risk to children

Let’s start with the number of kids under the age of 20 that have died in Illinois from COVID since March of 2020. The total is 19. While the death of every child is tragic, those COVID deaths make up just 0.08 percent of the state’s nearly 23,000 COVID deaths.

Compare the 19 deaths to those from simple accidents. We let our kids ride bikes, go to the lake or drive cars, not realizing that those activities can result in far more deaths. In 2017, the latest full year of IDPH data for comparison, 143 kids died from accidents alone. 

Suicide, too, is a bigger risk than COVID. In 2017, certainly a less stressful period than 2020-2021, 73 kids died from suicide.

In all, 606 youth aged 1 to 17 died in 2017. The recent COVID deaths would equal just 3 percent of that total.

It’s important to remember, too, that not just any child will die from COVID. Underlying conditions play a massive role in COVID deaths, and kids are no exception. 

Illinois, unlike many other states, does not publish comorbidity data. However, the Cook County Medical Examiner does. Of the ten children in Cook County that have died with COVID-19 listed as the primary cause, six had reported comorbidities of some kind. 

That means the risk for healthy children is even lower than thought, while those with underlying conditions should take more precautions.

In all, for youth under the age of 20, 19 out a total 225,527 known COVID cases in Illinois have resulted in death. That’s a known-case fatality rate of 0.008%. Said in reverse, the survival rate is 99.992%.

The actual survival rate is even higher, because the calculation above is for known cases. When asymptomatic cases that were never recorded are taken into account, the CDC estimates the survival rate for those under 19 rises to 99.997%.

What about the risks of kids getting COVID and getting hit with hospitalizations, complications and other long-haul impacts?

Well, again, that’s also minimal. A CDC study reported that weekly hospitalization rates for youth ages 12-17 peaked at 2.1 per 100,000 in early January 2021, a rate of only 0.002 percent. Teens’ COVID-19 hospitalization rate was 12.5 times lower when compared with adults over age 18.

Ultimately, the question comes down to managing risk. We don’t stop our kids from experiencing life due to the dangers inherent in even normal activities. We manage and live with them. And with its near-zero risk, the coronavirus shouldn’t be treated any differently.

Protecting the elderly

The risk to children is incredibly low and has been from the beginning. But one legitimate concern was the potential impact on the elderly, who have suffered the most from COVID. The worry was, in short, that children would come home from school and infect their grandparents. There is real risk from COVID for people who are 60 and older. The known-case fatality rate for that group is a combined 7.6% in Illinois – and nearly 20 percent for those 80 and older.

However, putting aside all the evidence that shows young children are not and were notsuperspreaders of COVID, the above scenario has become moot due to the vaccination efforts of the past several months. Over 75 percent of those 65 and older in Illinois have been fully vaccinated, while 83.4 percent of that age group has had at least one shot.

The low risk to teachers 

With grandparents now protected and children at low risk in the first place, that leaves just one group to discuss: middle aged adults, in particular, teachers.

Teachers have been able to receive the vaccine since January 25 of this year. With the shortages and disorganization that plagued the initial rollout long past, all teachers who wanted a vaccine should have been inoculated by now. 

Such is the case across the country, with the New York Times reporting that about 80 percent of teachers nationwide have been vaccinated with at least one dose.

And for those who aren’t vaccinated, the CDC’s estimated infection survivability rate for ages 20-49 is at 99.98 percent. According to data from the Illinois Teachers Retirement System, 77 percent of all teachers across the state are younger than 50. The data shows they can go back to teaching in the classroom with minimal risk.

Summary

Children have suffered a disproportionate amount of harm from the pandemic, as the effects for many will be felt throughout their entire lives. There’s the educational, developmental and economic harm stemming from failed online learning. There’s the social, emotional and mental harm imposed by a year of isolation. There’s the physical harm of less exercise, increased rates of substance abuse and more.

With all the protections adults now have, it’s time for them to step up and give children as close to a return to normalcy as possible. Eliminating masks will be a huge step in that direction.

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