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Panel of doctors agree students should start school year with masks

File photo
File photo

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A panel of medical experts that included well-known pediatricians from the Northeast Florida Pediatric Society answered questions during a virtual meeting Monday evening.

On Friday, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order in response to several Florida school boards considering or implementing mask mandates. The order ensures parents are able to choose whether their children wear masks during the school year -- something the doctors on the panel agree students should do.

“A year ago, it was scarce to see sick children and now we’re seeing them sick and lot of it is because they are a greater risk population because they don’t have vaccines,” said Dr. Bethany Atkins, pediatrician with Baptist Health.

“Children get sick from COVID, children get hospitalized from COVID and Children can die from COVID,” said Dr. Jeff Goldhagen with the Division of Community and Societal Pediatrics.

The panel of doctors agreed that because COVID-19 and the delta variant are still presenting new challenges to scientists studying the virus, parents can’t ignore the potential long-term effects the virus may have on their child.

“If your child is just fine today, they may not be just fine after the infection or one year from now or ten years from now,” said Dr. Mobeen Rathore with the UF Department of Pediatrics.

“And the long term impact even on asymptomatic cases of COVID are just beginning to unfold,” Goldhagen said. “We’re just beginning to understand this.”

Duval County school leaders announced teachers would have to wear masks for 30 days, but health experts on the panel said it’s not enough. One doctor suggested separating classes.

“Where families who do not want their kids to be wearing mask can opt to include their children in those classrooms and those families that do want to ensure their kids are wearing mask will be put into masked rooms,” Goldhagen suggested.

The panel suggested teachers further protect themselves by continuing to wear the mask, keep their distance and to make sure they’re vaccinated.

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