Who’s Watching the Kids?

Washington National Guard’s mobile vaccination team in the San Juan Islands

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

On a bustling street in Hanoi’s Old Quarter two tall American men met each other for the first time in an unassuming noodle shop. Sitting at a small table on low plastic stools, their long legs folded out a mile to compensate for the height, they enjoyed a simple meal of bun cha (pork noodles), fried spring rolls, and a bottle of cold Hanoi beer each. Both their sleeves were rolled up and their conversation, easy and amiable. 

One would think they had known each other for some time: Anthony Bourdain and President Barack Obama. They were filming an episode of “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” which aired on CNN September 25, 2016. President Obama was in the final year of his two term presidency, and Trump’s rallying cry was loose upon the land. Bourdain feared for what lay ahead. His question to the president, “As the father of a young girl, is it all going to be OK? Is it all going to work out?”

Obama’s reply is one I still draw on today. 

“Progress is not a straight line,” he said. “There are going to be moments in any given part of the world where things are terrible. But having said that, I think things are going to be fine.” 

Now here we are, nearly five years later. A global pandemic and, in our country, chaos in how we are all handling it. I am mostly concerned with how this chaos affects children. The initial outbreak of Coronavirus, however devastating, was relatively benign in children and seemed to spare them. This is no longer true. The virus changed. That’s what viruses do.

Patients are getting younger, babies included. In the last month, the Delta variant caused an alarming rise in pediatric cases. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children now account for more than 20% of new cases. And by the CDC’s count, there was at least a 22% increase in hospitalizations of kids under 17 years of age in the last month. Covid manifests itself in children with cold-like symptoms, chest pain, and difficulty breathing. If there is any good news it is that children are still not as likely to get as seriously ill as adults, but the Delta variant is hyper-transmissible and its contagiousness includes children.

“It’s the eighth month of 2021, and I can’t believe we’re having these conversations,” notes Jessica Malaty Rivera, epidemiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital. We’re having it because only about half the people eligible are vaccinated in this country. And anyone who catches Delta has most likely created clusters of infection, particularly in unvaccinated populations.

“The science is there. The clinical trials are in abundance, and we must stop denying the data. The vaccine remains the most effective and reliable way to stop this madness,” states Leslie Diaz, Infectious Disease Specialist at Jupiter Medical Center, FL. We need to vaccinate ourselves for the fifty million children under twelve years of age in the U.S. not yet eligible for vaccines. We must protect them in every way possible, and that includes immunization, social distancing, hand sanitizing, and the wearing of masks indoors.

Instead, this is what we’re doing. This is the mess we’ve made as a nation. It’s not pretty. It may be that we’ve never seen anything like this. People are playing scrimmage, political football, with our children’s safety. And it’s the reason why, again and again, I need to recall Obama’s words to Anthony Bourdain in a noodle shop in Hanoi that day. You have to remember, he said, “Progress is not a straight line.”

*Governors of nine states have banned mask mandates *After one week of school, in one district in Florida 8,400 students had to be placed in quarantine *Many pro-mask parents are having to pull their children out of schools *In a small town in west Texas the school district recently shut down due to Covid *Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida prohibits school districts from mask mandates insisting it’s a parent’s right to choose *Some parents in mask mandated schools are signing mask waivers, opting out *Parents are crying, “We will not comply!” *People are yelling “child abuser!” at parents of masked children *Mayor Bill de Blasio, NYC, requires vaccination of public school teachers in the city *In Alabama, four times more children are testing positive than last year, according to the Alabama Political Reporter *Abdallah Dalabih, a pediatric critical care physician at Arkansas Children’s Hospital recently stated, “We are not able to discharge them as fast as they are coming in.” *Unvaccinated teenagers are making up the bulk of pediatric Covid cases, and according to Dr. Dannielle Zerr at Seattle Children’s Hospital they seem to be more ill than last year’s patients *Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington requires vaccination for all employees working K-12, childcare, and early learning *Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis threatens to withhold salaries of district superintendents who require their students wear masks *Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issues an executive order banning mask mandates and declares Texas “the freedom capital of America.” *President Biden orders Education Secretary Miguel Cordona to take action against governors who have banned masking in public schools.

That’s all in the last week alone. Enough said.

10 Comments

Filed under children in the pandemic, Uncategorized

10 responses to “Who’s Watching the Kids?

  1. Val Gauthier

    We as adults parents and grandparents are supposed to lead by example. Some of the adults are acting worse than children. How do we show them calm in the midst of chaos? By being the calm. Thank you for this Kim🥰❤️🥰

  2. Tracy Ahrens

    When the pandemic was spreading so quickly last year, I kept thinking to myself “2021 will be a better year for all of us”. Here we are almost 9 months into 2021 and now I am hearing that if we follow the guidance, socially distance, wear masks and get vaccinated, we could be living a more normal life by next spring-2022. What sort of life we will be faced with a year from now? This horrible virus took my father and countless other older adults. Now it is sweeping through younger people who are ending up in hospitals and on death beds. Our children are our future and our best investment. It breaks my heart to think this virus has reached them too. We have to protect them.

    • Re: the article you sent, it’s hard to fathom whatever possessed him to become a physician in the first place.
      Oh I know, $.
      Then to take advantage of all these people cloaking themselves in “their individual liberties,” unwilling to wear masks–for others.

      Over my writing table was a note I made for myself which read: “Write the Chaos.” That’s how it happened that so much of the research that came in that I didn’t know how to begin to address, got thrown in a bin (the italicized section at the bottom of the page). Your article might have gone in there.

  3. zoesammy

    Kim, powerful post. You nailed the scale of the tragedy of children suffering because adults won’t do the right thing. And recalling Bourdain and Obama together makes me sigh over what we’ve lost. Thank you.

  4. Frank James

    Kim
    Thank you for this post. I just discovered your blog. There is an end to this and i really do not think it is far away. We will have to get boosters out to those that need them and to get the kids 5 to 11 immunized but that should be done by January and honestly those that do not want to protect themselves and their family that is just going to have to be alright. As you point out the kids are the problem. Patents not choosing to protect their own children or even harm them is beyond my understanding but it is a form of cult behavior that is real and is here now. Our community has wanted to protect one another from the beginning and have been remarkably successful. When this started I would have told you without doubt in voice or my mind that there was no way we would make it through without deaths in our community. San Juan has a population of people over 65 more that twice that of other counties, 35%, one in three. Death rates for that age group compared to the 20-30 year olds is 200 times higher. And yet because people understood that wearing a mask protects others. It is really very simple, masks do a fair job of protecting yourself but a great job of protecting others (source containment works best). As much as I worry about kids and COVID, our schools have solid plans and when they make rules they have the ability and structure to follow them. Schools are the safest public spaces in our community. Moreover fewer that 20 youth 19 years old and younger have died in Washington State in the entire pandemic and the majority of them were over 12 years old. Rarely really bad things can happen and yes we do need to protect those that can not protect themselves but we are moving quickly in the right direction. Staff at the health department are beyond exhausted, working such long hours for more than a year and a half is an amazing feat of endurance for every single one of them. But it has been done and the end of this is now in sight. There may be curve balls of variants emerging and we will not all be safe until everyone on the planet is protected but by January we will have all of the high risk people that want to be protected across the line. There will always be people that find their own way and need to be different. I don’t really understand that but it is just the way it is. Fortunately for us it is a community of a few dozen people. The overwhelming majority have all done the right thing and continue to do the right thing and because of that everyone is likely to be much safer by January and we will start to turn the corner and be able to safely return to our more normal lives. What we will have gained though is knowing that we can, when we come together as a community, overcome horrible, disastrous outcomes. We can only do that if we do it together. Each of our actions are what protects everyone, even those that do not do the right thing. We have much more to do still in our short lives. We have all been born into a time of tremendous challenge. It is an opportunity to serve one another and our families, and to grow closer together and more resilient as a result. We will have to turn to the future of environmental challenges that may make this pandemic look easy, but we will do this work too together, as a community of caring people. And together we can do what is required of us, for ourselves and our children and yes even for those that will not or can not do it for themselves.

  5. Thank you, there’s a lot here and I feel better already. (For readers who don’t know, Dr. Frank James is the Health Officer in San Juan County, Washington).
    I love your line, “What we will have gained though is knowing that we can, when we come together as a community, overcome horrible, disastrous outcomes.”
    And then the way you set us up to tackle global warming, deforestation, pollution, and everything affecting our environment. Onward!

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