Gov. John Bel Edwards imposed a mask mandate in Louisiana last week after the state recorded the highest per capita COVID-19 growth in the nation. (Getty Images)
The COVID-19 numbers are rising again, but this time our children are bearing the brunt of the coronavirus.
At Children’s Hospital New Orleans, 1,000 children were seen in the emergency room in one week; 132 were COVID positive. Eighteen children have been hospitalized with COVID-19, nine are under the age of 2. Six are in the intensive care unit. Three are on ventilators, including a 1-month-old. Five of the 18 are 12 years old or older. They are eligible for the vaccine, but none had been vaccinated.
Dr. John Vanchiere, pediatrics professor at LSU Health Shreveport, is emphatic when he tells parents how to protect their children from the highly contagious Delta variant. “Masks are the only thing that will change the course of this siege right now,” he said. “Masks save lives.”
The message is clear, but Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care. Despite the high Delta variant transmission among children, Landry continues to undermine Gov. John Bel Edwards’ efforts to stop the spread.
Landry started his insidious antics last week when he gave parents advice on how they should apply for religious and philosophical exemptions to school mask mandates. Then he supported medical students in Northeast Louisiana who didn’t want to get vaccinated before starting classes and training. He even chastised the Catholic bishop of the Lafayette diocese for going along with the governor’s mask mandate in local Catholic schools. Landry’s child attends one of those schools.
Last week, Edwards reinstated a mask mandate, requiring masks to be worn in all indoor locations, including schools and colleges. The governor based his decision on the fact that Louisiana has the highest per capita COVID-19 growth in the nation. That disappointing growth is being driven by the Delta variant and the state’s low vaccination rates.
Instead of joining the governor in the fight against COVID, Landry issued an unnecessary opinion. In the five-page document, Landry said the Legislature specifically gave the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) the authority to set safety protocols.
“This office is of the opinion that directives as to the safety protocols to be observed by teachers and students present at school facilities during the school day are themselves a vital aspect of education over which BESE holds constitutional and statutory authority to oversee,” the document says.
“Additionally, BESE may adopt rules providing guidelines for local school boards to adopt such policies considering factors specific to the school district, such as the percent positivity rate of the district, event settings, group composition, physical distance between students in the classroom, activity engaged in and other relevant criteria,” the opinion states.
Edwards disagrees with Landry’s opinion and publicly blasted the attorney general for his views. “The fact of the matter is I have the authority and the obligation under the current circumstances to declare public health emergencies,” Edwards said. “Not only is he (Landry) wrong but he is going out of his way to undermine public confidence in mitigation measures … at a time when we need it more than ever.”
Edwards’ summary of Landry’s opinion says it all: “It is sad. It is regrettable. It is irresponsible and it is dangerous.”
Since elected officials like Landry cannot be trusted, we should follow the advice of medical professionals who have the education, the experience, the research and the data to back up their recommendations. For instance, Vanchiere is a second-generation pediatrician from Lake Charles, who serves as the chief of LSU Health Shreveport Department of Pediatrics Infectious Diseases Section and is the current president of the Louisiana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Another doctor on the COVID frontline is Dr. Mark Kline, the physician-in-chief at Children’s Hospital New Orleans. An internationally recognized leader in child health, Kline was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for his pioneering work with Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Initiative (BIPAI). According to a Children’s Hospital press release, the program “currently provides HIV/AIDS care and treatment to more than 350,000 of the world’s poorest and least fortunate children and families, more than any other organization worldwide.”
When Kline says the rapid community spread is heavily impacting children in ways that COVID-19 didn’t before, we should believe him.
“At a minimum, schools must have appropriate mitigation measures in place for the safety of children, teachers and staff, including mandatory masking,” Kline said Monday during an interview with Robin Roberts of “Good Morning America.” “I salute Gov. John Bel Edwards for his mandatory mask order for schools…This is a common-sense measure that should be replicated by other governors across the region.”
BESE has yet to weigh in on Landry’s opinion or Edwards’ COVID safety protocols, but the state board is scheduled to meet next week. It would be wise to follow the doctors’ recommendations.
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