As the start of school approaches, some pediatricians warned Monday of a difficult year ahead as they see an uptick in the number of young people getting COVID-19, but no increase in kids seeking vaccinations against the virus.
That, along with other factors such as the spread of the delta variant and the refusal of the state to set clear mandates on mask wearing and other restrictions in schools, is creating a troubling combination that could fuel chaos in the fall, they said.
"I think it’s going to be a very tough school year," said Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children's Hospital. "We’re going to see a lot of kids getting sick."
Dr. Eve Meltzer Krief, a pediatrician in Huntington who is also a local representative of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said: "We can’t even imagine what the school year is going to look like. Just the thought of it is rather overwhelming.
"In the last several days, we are seeing quite an uptick" in cases among young people, "and it’s really concerning to pediatricians like me because we know the kids aren’t even in school right now and they’re mainly outside," she said. "We’re very, very concerned as pediatricians."
Only children 12 years of age and older are eligible at this point to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
In the latest COVID-19 indicators, released Monday, the state hit a nearly 3% seven-day average for positivity in testing, while Long Island logged more than 600 new confirmed cases, continuing a general upward trend as the delta variant spreads.
Krief said Monday she is especially upset the state is not setting a mandate to require school districts to have students and staff wear masks, and instead is leaving it up to districts to make the decision.
"We do think the school district superintendents have no place in making the public health decisions that affect the health and well-being of the children. Those decisions should be made by public health experts and pediatricians," she said.
She added: "We demand that the school districts mask the children."
Dr. Sophia Jan, chief of pediatrics at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, agreed.
"There should be universal masking mandates because that has been highly effective in the previous academic season to minimize spread in the schools," she said.
Children who want to meet New York City’s requirement to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by the start of the school year Sept. 13 should have received their first shot by Monday, she said.
But there was no sign of increased requests for vaccinations of young people in the Northwell Health care system where she works, she said.
Long Island school districts have no vaccine mandates, but students who are eligible should also be getting their first shots around now if they want to be ready for the school year, medical experts said.
"I would not say that there is a mad rush" of young people getting shots, Jan said. "We hope there is a mad rush. We are prepared for it.
"We can flex up and down as needed to accommodate any number of families who want to get their kids vaccinated. We encourage them to do it."
She said that "we are seeing alarmingly rising numbers of people admitted in both the ICUs and the hospital who are younger and younger" and have COVID-19. "They are also nearly all unvaccinated."
Krief said that she admitted a hospital on Monday an 8-year-old boy with COVID-19 who has developed pneumonia. "Overall, we’re still really working hard at trying to convince parents to have their kids vaccinated," Krief said. "We’re still seeing some hesitancy and reluctance."
Nachman said that at Stony Brook, they are actually seeing an increase in the number of adolescents getting their vaccination shots in recent days. Many universities are requiring it for students for the fall semester, while parents of students in high school and middle school want to protect their children since it is unclear if schools will require masks.
Vaccinations and mask mandates are important "because the last thing we want to see is kids being hospitalized," she said.
In results released Monday, Nassau County registered 338 new confirmed cases in testing completed Sunday, while Suffolk County had 340, for an Islandwide total of 678. New York City logged 1,934 new cases.
The number of people in the state hospitalized with the virus grew by 63, to 1,225.
The seven-day average for positivity in testing increased over the last three days on Long Island from 3.5% to 3.58% to 3.59%. The state average went from 2.86% to 2.91% to 2.96%.
Throughout the state, 11 people died on Sunday of causes linked to the virus. One of the fatalities was in Suffolk.