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Analysis: New data on kids and Covid made a GOP governor flip on masks in schools

Analysis: New data on kids and Covid made a GOP governor
flip on masks in schools 1
A version of this story appeared in CNN’s What Matters newsletter. To get it in your inbox, sign up for free here.
We’re talking about kids under 12, who need to go back to school over the next month, but can’t get the vaccine.
“I think we’ve let our children down,” Dr. Paul Offit, a vaccine adviser to the US Food and Drug Administration, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Wednesday, while discussing low vaccination rates in the US placing children who cannot get the shot at risk. “They depend on those around them to protect them,” he said.
While a number of Southern governors are stubbornly sticking to anti-mask requirement rhetoric, at least one, Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, has looked at the data and changed his mind.
In hindsight… After signing a bill earlier this year that banned mask requirements in Arkansas schools, the Republican governor has done a 180, regrets signing it, and has called a special session of the General Assembly in hopes that conservatives in his state can be convinced to give schools in particular more power to require masks.
The local coverage suggests his call to amend the law that he signed will not go very far.
“In hindsight, I wish that it had not become law,” he said Tuesday of the anti-mask requirement bill he made into law with his signature back in April.
As recently as July 25, Hutchinson was sort of defending the law. During an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union,” he argued the emphasis should rightly be on vaccinations and not masks.
“At that point, we had very low case rates in Arkansas, and people knew exactly what to do,” Hutchinson said of signing the law. “They were capable of making their decisions. And then we shifted to the emphasis on vaccination. And I really think it’s important not to have the current debate about mask-wearing, but to have the current emphasis on getting a vaccine.”
Who’s getting Covid-19 now? The problem is that in Arkansas and many US states, not enough people got vaccinated. Now, as the Delta variant tears through that state and others, the data shows it’s increasingly people who can’t get vaccinated — kids — that are also getting Covid-19.
Arkansas Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero appeared alongside Hutchinson on Tuesday and told reporters in Arkansas that he had some sobering data to share.
As of August 1:
  • Nearly 19% of active Covid-19 cases in Arkansas are in kids under 18.
  • More than half the cases among kids are in kids under 12 who can’t get vaccinated.
  • The state saw a 517% increase in cases among kids under 18 between April and July.
  • The increase is larger — 690% — in children 12 and under.
  • There’s a 270% increase in hospitalizations for kids under 18.
  • ICU admissions are up 275% between April and July.
  • 20% of those ICU admissions are among kids under 12.
  • More than half of the kids hospitalized at the end of July — 58% — are under 12.
“I think these numbers exemplify and bring out a very sobering aspect of the pandemic in our state,” he said, according to the Fayetteville Flyer and CNN affiliate KATV. “We have a group of individuals that are extremely susceptible to infection because they do not have eligibility for a vaccine.
The increase in kids may just be a reflection of the fact that many adults have been vaccinated and kids cannot be vaccinated. Any surge in Covid-19 cases should be seen more in an unvaccinated group.
Kids are also getting Covid-19 in Florida. It continues to be a major Delta variant hot spot.
Florida saw more than 30 pediatric Covid-19 hospitalizations per day between July 24 and July 30, according to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data in the Tampa Bay Times.
Separately, a large portion of the more than 110,000 new Covid-19 cases the state reported in its own weekly Covid-19 data review showed that more than 10,000 were in children under 12, and more than 11,000 in children between 12 and 19, according to the state’s department of health. Just 38% of that 12-19 population is vaccinated. Vaccination rates increase markedly with age. More than 85% of those over 65 are vaccinated in Florida.
Critical staffing shortage expected. Coronavirus-related hospitalizations are up 13% from Florida’s previous peak on July 23, 2020, according to the Florida Hospital Association, which predicted 60% of hospitals in the state could face a “critical staffing shortage” in the next seven days.
From CNN’s report: There are currently 11,515 patients hospitalized with Covid-19 in the Sunshine State, according to a news release Tuesday. FHA reports 84% of all in patients beds and 86.5% of ICU beds are occupied.
Of those hospitalized with Covid-19, 21% are in the ICU and 13% are on ventilators, according to FHA.
Not changing his mind. But unlike Hutchinson, Florida’s GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis is not reconsidering his own support for anti-mask requirement bans. Instead, he’s dueling with President Joe Biden, who pleaded with governors to get out of the way of local jurisdictions who want to implement CDC guidance.
“I say to the governors, please help,” Biden said Tuesday. “If you’re not going to help, get out of the way of the people that are trying to do the right thing. Use your power to save lives.”
DeSantis lit into Biden. At his own news conference on Wednesday, he repeated the false idea that the Covid-19 surge came from undocumented immigrants.
“Why don’t you get this border secure, and until you do that, I don’t want to hear a blip about Covid from you,” DeSantis said of Biden.
School districts in Florida are waffling on defying DeSantis’ decree on mask requirements. Broward County’s school board has thrice changed — from saying it would insist on masks to saying it would comply with DeSantis, to now saying it may insist on masks. It’s been joined by several counties in the Northern part of the state.
Meanwhile, Americans are coming to grips with the need to re-mask indoors as vaccination rates can be improved.
The Louisiana mask requirement is meant to give hospitals a break. In Louisiana, the Democratic governor’s new indoor mask requirement takes hold Wednesday, but he rejected the idea of a vaccine passport like the one being pushed in New York.
“I think you’re starting to see some of that put in place around the country. We’re not entertaining that here in Louisiana, but we do want people to be vaccinated. It is incredibly important,” Gov. John Bel Edwards told Peter Kovacs, editor of The Advocate and Times-Picayune, during a town hall.
He’s also not going to require the vaccine for state employees “unless and until the FDA grants full licensure to one of more of the Covid vaccines.”
The least onerous thing. That leaves him with the mask requirement. It’s “the least onerous thing we can do in order to try and curb transmission and give some breathing room back to our hospitals is to reinstate the mask mandate.”
Edwards said deaths in the state have jumped from two per day a month ago to 103 in the past two days.
“The capacity at our hospitals is just absolutely strained,” Edwards said.
States that are driving the Covid-19 surge are states with the lowest vaccination rates, according to the White House.
“In fact, seven states with the lowest vaccination rates represent just about 8- 1/2% of the US population, but account for more than 17% of cases, and one in three cases nationwide occurred in Florida and Texas, this past week,” White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said Monday.
They’re also the places working to turn around their vaccination rates. But it takes weeks for a vaccine’s protection to take hold.
Who will need a third shot? The US is also beginning to look more seriously at the need for booster shots, particularly for people with compromised immune systems.
Some countries — the United Arab Emirates Germany, Israel and the United Kingdom — are recommending third shots for the elderly.
The World Health Organization (WHO) opposes the practice however, due to vaccine inequality across the globe.

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