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I became a family doctor to advocate for those who are most vulnerable. So, when it comes to Covid and masks, I wonder, why gamble with our children’s health when a vaccine that could confer protection from serious illness is just around the corner?

What is the rush in eliminating school mask mandates now when we are so close to giving everyone a more equitable chance of fighting this dangerous virus? Research has shown that in unmasked school settings, without frequent testing, the Covid virus spreads quickly and efficiently; individual masking offers significantly less protection than universal masking.

So why take the masks off? Is it politics? Exhaustion? Fatigue? Despair? Haven’t we seen enough death and complications from Covid? Don’t our must vulnerable deserve respect and equal access to care, too?

Mandate opponents say that masking can reduce kids’ ability to recognize emotions and that masks make communication more difficult. But the data on this is scarce, and most experts agree that the protective benefits of masking outweigh the potential negatives.

Of course, we are tired. Everyone is tired. My husband and I fantasize about traveling when our two kids under five are vaccinated. We have a running list of places we’d like to go — a Kenyan safari, Puerto Rico, the Galapagos — and we daydream while transporting ourselves to work and school and the grocery store.

But that’s all it is, daydreaming. More than two years into this pandemic that has cost the lives of almost one million Americans and almost six million people worldwide, we can’t take the risk of exposing our two prematurely born children (one with chronic lung disease) to Covid.

Yes, a lot of the recent data is promising. Most of the cases of the highly contagious Omicron variant seem milder. And, although the health care system in many areas of the country became overwhelmed during the recent surge, hospitalizations of adults as a share of case counts have decreased significantly, in part due to immunizations. Many adults are starting to feel a sense of relief.

We feel alone and abandoned. We have waited two years in many areas of the country following the science” that masks work to limit and contain spread. We want our children to be able to fight this virus; we want our country to recognize this as the equity issue it is.

However, despite the improving numbers overall, hospitalizations of children, especially for the unvaccinated, have dramatically increased, and Black and Hispanic children have been disproportionately affected. And while there are some promising therapeutics to help prevent severe disease, they are scarce, and the vast majority aren’t available for young children. Furthermore, there are still many risks of Covid-19 infection we don’t fully understand.

Yet, all over the nation, states that had mask and school mandates during the recent surge are starting to remove them. Children and the immunocompromised — including elderly and medically complex individuals — are left with uncertainty, vulnerability and sometimes despair.

Most adults have had a year to get vaccinated. Children, especially our youngest ones, haven’t had that option yet. In the U.S., there are almost no children younger than five who are vaccinated. Only 24 percent of children ages five through 11 are fully vaccinated, and just 57 percent of those ages 12 to 17 are fully vaccinated. Thankfully, both the CDC and the AAP currently support mask mandates as a way to offer children some protection against Covid-19.

The move back to in-person classes is important. Negative effects from remote schooling and decreased socialization are real. Many children have fallen behind academically.

But without mask mandates the decision of whether to send our children back to in-person school becomes more difficult. Parenting during the pandemic has been harder than many of us imagined; we not only continuously worry about our children’s safety, but also about their academic well-being and potential for future opportunities.

Moreover, recent data shows that the chance of children who have contracted the disease developing long-term Covid is one out of seven, or 14 percent. The effects of long Covid are still being studied, but fatigue, headaches, diarrhea, dizziness, high heart rates, swallowing problems and attention loss are thought to be among the most common. Imagine the effect that the “brain fog” of long Covid could have on a child’s academic potential and social development and how disabling and confusing it would be for them.

But now there is hope. Although the FDA asked to postpone Pfizer’s data review until April 2022 when more information will be available, Moderna has indicated that they may be submitting data on their vaccine by March 2022. Both vaccines may be approved by summer.

In my roles as a family medicine physician and a mother, I know that many of my patients and fellow parents are struggling. We have been faced with the daunting dilemma of choosing between the psychological and the physical health of our children. We are exhausted.

We feel alone and abandoned. We have waited two years in many areas of the country following the science” that masks work to limit and contain spread. We want our children to be able to fight this virus; we want our country to recognize this as the equity issue it is.

Despite our different views, we all have one thing in common: We want to keep our loved ones safe. Let’s wait a few more months to have a vaccine that works to make sure we can continue to protect our most vulnerable. Let’s keep the school mask mandates until all children have a chance to be vaccinated.

Dr. Maria Portela Martinez is chief of Family Medicine and an assistant professor at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. She is also a senior fellow of Atlantic Philanthropies and Commonwealth Fund Mongan. The opinions expressed are her own.

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