Delta variant “spreads rapidly among children and adolescents” in “unmasked situations”, says pediatrician
US Rep. Mary Miller’s mask tweet “just not true,” pediatrician says
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) – A leading pediatrician who works in the emergency room to treat sick children says he supports the statewide mask mandate in classrooms, as data shows the Delta variant can spread much faster in unmasked indoor environments.
Below is a transcript of our interview with Dr. Doug Carlson, Medical Director of St. John’s Children’s Hospital and Chairman of the Department of Pediatrics, who began the conversation shortly after hanging up the phone following a conversation with hospital lawyers about the potential to require employees to be vaccinated.
Mark Maxwell: The legal implications ofâ¦ What are your lawyers telling you? Did you say imposing vaccines? Is it correct?
Dr. Doug Carlson: Yes. I think generally we are looking at mandatory vaccines. Court systems in the United States, including our federal jurisdiction, have said employers have the right to demand vaccines.
Maxwell: But the government?
Dr. Carlson: That, uh, I’m not a government expert,
Maxwell: But you’re looking at your employees here.
Dr. Carlson: We look at the employees. I know that in the SIU and in the hospital systems, we are carefully considering whether we should mandate vaccines to keep ourselves, and more importantly, our patients and the population healthy.
Maxwell: What about those people who say, “You are discriminating against my personal choice to put something in my body, I work here as an employee, you can’t tell me to do that.”
Dr. Carlson: There are consequences of not getting vaccinated, and those consequences can harm others. So we weigh that carefully, but believe that there are consequences for others that outweigh the ability to say, âI’m just not doing this.
Maxwell: Okay, let’s talk about the mask rule. First of all, I’m wondering, do you think the CDC could have cost some credibility with the public by saying a month ago, “if you’re vaccinated you can take the mask off in class”, and now they “I come back saying, ‘No, wait, wait, put it back.’
Dr. Carlson: I realize this is getting confusing. But science does not stand still. Science and our âwhat we knowâ are changing. And especially during this, it changes on a daily or weekly basis. The information the CDC was using to make that choice last week was information they didn’t have a month ago, about the Delta variant, how infectious the Delta variant is, how much disease it causes. and, most importantly, that if you can catch and catch it with the vaccine, you are still protected. But it looks like you can infect others.
Maxwell: A lot of people in our audience could come up to you, or one of your colleagues as a pediatrician and say, âMy kids are going to class this year, maybe they’re too young for the vaccine, or maybe they got it. They are 16 years old. They are going to go to class. And now they have to wear a mask. What would you tell them what it really doesâ¦ Why do you wear a mask in the hospital? Why should a student wear a mask in a classroom?
Dr. Carlson: I wear a mask to protect myself, protect people, my colleagues, protect my family and protect us all, so that we reduce the spread of the virus. So in schools, it is important, especially since 11 years and under cannot have [vaccine], it is important that everyone wear masks because even though small children don’t get as sick and teenagers don’t fall as often as adults, they still get sick. In St. Louis, Arkansas, in Springfield, Missouri, hospitals are filling up. In fact, we have seen an increase. We got, we just got the data. In the last two weeks of July, we had 12 positive results in children who sought care at St. John’s Children’s Hospital.
Maxwell: I already know that before Governor Pritzker’s press conference today, there will be politicians who will say whatâ¦ They will take what you just said about young children who are not largely so sick. . But they might gloss over what you said a minute ago, that the science isn’t stalling, that we are learning new information about how this delta variant – I saw an article today saying that it seems to infect young people, and they ‘get more serious disease. What do we know at this early stage of learning about the delta variant and the risks it might pose to this younger student body?
Dr. Carlson: We know that the Delta variant is several times more infectious than the previous variants of the order of chickenpox, which is a very contagious virus. Thus, it spreads very quickly among the children of the faithful groups, unlike the initial variants. So that we know that in unmasked situations it is spreading rapidly among children and adolescents. It is still not as prevalent in young children as it is in older children, we really think of them as all school age children.
Maxwell: Help me figure this out. What about a small child versus an older child? Is it just like how much they breathe and their lung capacity?
Dr. Carlson: It’s very simple. Think of a small child’s cough and think of what he might spit up and think of a teenager’s cough, what he might spit up. It’s 10 years old seems to be roughly the age. Ten and older in adulthood, under 10s spread it a little less, but they can still spread it.
Maxwell: So viral load, basically.
Dr. Carlson: Yes, it’s the viral load in your body, but the viral load that you cough up when you cough or breathe, breathe normally.
Maxwell: Okay, and I hate having to ask you these questions. But believe it or not, we are inundated with a flood of people still saying that masks are somehow harmful to you, masks can hurt you. I think even a member of Parliament from Illinois said that a mask, a paper mask, is a petri dish of infection and disease. What do you say to people who say things like that?
Dr. Carlson: It just isn’t true. I think for a medical mask like I wear it now, I exchange it every day or a few times a day when I’m on clinical duty. If you wear a sheet mask, wash it frequently, but there is no evidence that masks cause an increase in infections by continually wearing them in indoor environments.
Maxwell: Then there’s compliance and just the happiness factor, I guess, interaction, right? Children learn socially or emotionally in classrooms, in particular. Some parents just say, âYou know what? Looking at the big picture, my kid is quite young, I don’t think they are going to get sick, maybe my kids are vaccinated, I don’t think they are going to get sick. And I think their emotional well-being is also worth something. Why should they cover their faces to go to school?
Dr. Carlson: We can’t find that. You know, where do we find the downsides of wearing masks. If it’s … We’re not saying forcing a little kid, a two year old, to put on a mask. Some children with intellectual disabilities, a little older. We are not saying forcing these children. But if your child is cooperative and wears a mask, it is good for him and good for others, he cannot wear a mask. It is therefore an individual choice for small children. Don’t, it isn’t, it shouldn’t be torture, but most children are able to adjust and accept the mask on purpose.
Maxwell: So you’ve probably encountered your fair share of non-compliant patients. And if I’m being honest, maybe I was one of them for some part of my life. Sometimes what’s the psychology of a patient or a larger population that sinks into their heels and says, “You tell me to do something and I don’t want to do it?” How to overcome that?
Dr. Carlson: Well, we understand. What we are learning about this epidemic is that we are applying science to the rules. We’re sort of pivoting a bit. We continue to apply the science, but we are looking at the science of human psychology. And it’s a conundrum for me sometimes to understand why people are so opposed to the slight precaution of wearing a mask in public or, more importantly, not getting the vaccine which will help themselves and their loved ones. . I don’t quite understand it. But we try to be respectful of it. So if you choose not to get the vaccine, take care of yourself and others by wearing a mask.
Maxwell: Anything else you think I missed here?
Dr. Carlson: No, I think we’re big supporters. I was very happy to hear about the press conference at 1:30 am to get out of it. This is, I think, a mandatory mask rule. My daughter just graduated from Glenwood High School, she is going to go to the University of Illinois, Champaign, and we were very happy that the University of Illinois was one of the universities that decided to ‘have mandated a mask. I think the only way to prevent this from spreading to schools – and some of these kids will get sick. We see this in the high prevalence rates – but most importantly, although the number of children do get sick, some do, but do they give it to other people who might get sick.
Maxwell: Two questions for you. I didn’t mean to interrupt you.
Dr. Carlson: Yeah, it’s okay.
Maxwell: I have two things. Are you currently able to administer the vaccine in your clinic?
Dr. Carlson: Yes. We administer the vaccine to our patients. And we offer family members who come with
Maxwell: A full line of all three?
Dr. Carlson: Right now it depends on what we have. I believe we have Moderna available today, sometimes Pfizer, but we can do that in the community. You can choose. You have to look around, but you can go to websites and say, âI want Johnson Johnson, I want Moderna, I want Pfizer. You can do it. But we have Moderna and Pfizer in our clinics.
Maxwell: And how are these conversations going? Are there any parents who come and say, “Look Doc, I don’t know about this thing”. What do they say?
Dr. Carlson: They ask questions, and we suggest them. We say “what about a vaccine today?” Itâs surprising to us that even though itâs late in the vaccine season since it was first available, we still get parents who say yes every day. And we receive children from 12 to 17 years old in our clinics who say yes