Mask mandates and school closures due to COVID-19 will only increase the fear of the virus among students in the community, especially when it will only make them mildly ill, local consultant paediatrician and neonatologist Dr. Sara Watkin has said.
“We need to protect our children’s mental health, we need to stop scaring them,” Watkin, of Integra Healthcare, said as she addressed the recently concluded Cayman Healthcare Conference at the Kimpton Seafire Resort.
Speaking on the topic ‘Optimising & Protecting Child Health in the Post-Closure Era’ on Friday, Watkin said she believes that COVID-19 is here to stay.
“We must consider what we are doing will have long term implications for our children,” Watkin warned.
The consultant paediatrician and neonatologist argued that COVID-19 is a mild disease in children, but many of the measures in place in local schools will have long term implications.
“Closing a school for more than 15 days deprives our children of an education. It deprives their parents from a salary. It deprives those children from having food on the table at night and the ability to think and play as a child and it is increasing fear and trauma in our children,” Watkin said.
She also pointed to UNICEF and the World Health Organization, who do not mandate masks for children aged six and up, except in cases of widespread COVID-19, which is not the case here.
It comes after Director of the Department of Education Services Mark Ray, on the 6 Oct. episode of the Cayman Compass Facebook show ‘The Resh Hour’ defended mask mandates saying the decision was based on a couple of factors, including the lack of space in some classrooms to safely maintain a distance between students.
Ray added: “All of those protocols that we put in place are for their protection”.
Watkin, however, contended that Cayman needs to “learn to thrive with COVID and not hide from COVID; our children’s health depends on it.”
She said the COVID-19 measures are putting children at risk, in terms of their educational attainment, social integration and “putting them at risk of poverty”.
She stated “it is milder than most things” that children get admitted to hospital for, such as gastroenteritis.
“The question is: are we protecting our children from COVID-19 or COVID-19 measures?” she asked, adding that, for children, there were more serious long term effects associated with the prevention measures than the virus itself.
She said data shows children who have had COVID have antibodies for much longer periods than adults; even 12 months after infection, children are still protected by the natural antibodies.
“We could be asking ourselves why don’t we just let our kids get COVID and let them develop natural immunity themselves,” she questioned.
Pointing to data, Watkin said 60 to 70% of children with COVID-19 infection are completely asymptomatic, “so we might ask ourselves why are we excluding children with symptoms and even then, are we excluding children with the right symptoms?”.
She pointed out that at the start of the school term there was a local school refusing admission to children with a runny nose, which she pointed out, was not an identified symptom of COVID-19.
She stated deaths as a result of motor vehicle accidents, firearm injury, malignant neoplasm (cancerous tumour), suffocation and drowning were significantly higher than deaths of children in the UK and US due to COVID-19.
She pointed out that 0.2% of children without co-morbidities get severe COVID-19, versus 5.1% of children with co-morbidities.
In Cayman, she said, there are 11,000 children aged 0-14 and assuming the statistic death rate of 1 in 500,000 “Cayman is likely to suffer one child death every 145 years from COVID”.
That death, she contended can be year one of the 145 years or year 145, or any year in between.
She said Cayman needs to identify and protect vulnerable children.
“What it reinforces is: what we should be protecting is the at-risk group, which is a very tiny number and let the rest of our children get on with leading more healthy lives,” she said, adding, if adults are “vaccinated we would not be worried about our children getting COVID”.
She lamented that there is a pandemic of fear in our children and it is being “driven by us”.
“Anxiety has increased tremendously in children here in Cayman. There is also data across the world showing the same,” she said.
“The number one contribution we can make is vaccinate ourselves,” she said, “so we avoid these measures that harm our children.”