“Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics has reported a significant increase in COVID-19 cases amongst people under 18 years of age,” she said. “The Delta variant is nearly twice as contagious as earlier variants and might cause more severe illness.”

Morrison said the Delta spike has been described as a “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” and the unvaccinated includes children under the age of 12.

“During the fall 2020 surge, children under 10 years were roughly 5 percent of cases,” she said. “Over the last two months in 2021, the overall share of cases among children less than 10 years has doubled to 9.9 percent.

Morrison said area school districts have all received the recommended best practices from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) for the 2021-22 school year as well as separate follow-up communications encouraging them to follow the MDH guidance from CHI St. Joseph’s Community Health, Essentia Health and Sanford Health.

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“Ultimately, the schools and the school boards make the decisions whether to follow these best practice recommendations,” she said.

Dr. Johanna Nynas is an obstetrician/gynecologist at Sanford in Bemidji. She said masking has become a very political issue, with the decision to mask in schools left up to individual parents in many districts.

“One of the things we value so much in America is our ability to make those independent choices,” she said. “I’ve started advocating for my patients, vaccinated or not, to wear masks when out in public and considering masking at large gatherings. We want to protect everyone from respiratory droplets. That’s why properly wearing a mask and making sure it is covering the nose and mouth is so important. ”

She said parents who are concerned about children too young to be vaccinated have every right to have their child wear a mask when in school.

“I think you’re going to see a lot of organizations raising concerns, and physicians, about universal masking and schools,” Nynas said. “The more parents advocate for their kids that also helps. There is no reason not to mask and every reason to mask. Because children 12 and under can’t be vaccinated and vaccination rates in this region are low and transmission is high, if there’s anyone worth protecting it’s those kids.

“When you get in the car, you put on your seat belt. You’re not going to not wear a seat belt even though there’s a chance you could still get in a fatal car crash. Same with vaccines.

“Vaccines are not 100 percent. Masks are not 100 percent. Hand washing is not 100 percent. But that incremental improvement you have when used consistently over a period of time is what’s going to reduce the spread.

“It’s not just about protecting you. It’s about protecting your family, the people you work with and the rest of the people in your community. We all need you right now.”

Dr. Bertha Ayi is an infectious disease physician at Essentia Health in Fargo.

“There is transmission among younger people, and some children may develop severe illness,” Ayi said. “There are some children who develop a multi-system inflammatory syndrome, a rare but serious condition. We recommend children 12 and older get vaccinated and adults, too. Clearly, masks do work. They reduce transmission.”