Health officials say mandatory mask mandate in Virginia is necessary as coronavirus cases rise among children

Back to School

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — 10 On Your Side is your official back-to-school station. We know parents have a lot of questions heading into this school year after a year of virtual learning and unknowns around every corner. We’re on your side with answers.

It’s no secret masks have been highly politicized throughout the pandemic.

RELATED: 2021 Back to School Guide: What Hampton Roads families need to know

After contentious and combative debates among parents and school board members, a public health order came down from Governor Ralph Northam making them mandatory for all students and staff.

RELATED: Catholic schools update mask policy following Virginia’s new health order

10 On Your Side went to health experts who say there’s no debate, masks are necessary.

“Is back and school socializing with a mask ideal? No, but it’s still better than sitting at home using virtual,” said Dr. Douglas Mitchell, medical director of CHKD Medical Group.

The order comes as Virginia sees another rise in coronavirus cases, including the spread of the highly contagious delta variant.

The CDC said a person infected with the original strain of COVID-19 could infect 2 people. With the delta variant, the risk of spreading grows to at least 5 people.

“Masks clearly are effective in preventing the spread and so the more of those things that we do, the more we’re going to be able to get kids back into school safely,” Mitchell said.

The Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters saw more than 12,000 positive tests in January
That number dropped dramatically to 125 in June

RELATED: Vaccine and mask requirements at local colleges & universities

However, alarming new numbers show more kids are testing positive. The hospital reported more than 360 positive tests from August 1 through the 10, with weeks left to go until the end of the month

Keep in mind, only kids who are at least 12 years old can get the vaccine right now.

​”You’re not only protecting yourselves, but you’re also protecting those who might not be eligible to be vaccinated, specifically children,” said Portsmouth Health Department Director Lauren James. “Now that we’re seeing cases trend up in children, I think that’s another layer of it as well.”

According to CHKD, measures that were used to mitigate COVID-19 last year, like masking, also prevented other respiratory viruses. During the winter, CHKD saw less RSV and flu cases than on a typical year.

Now, health officials say respiratory illnesses are also on the rise.

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