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.