Local doctor urges safe return to classrooms as COVID positivity rate rises at Valley Children’s Hospital


CENTRAL VALLEY, Calif. (KGPE) – Last week, Valley Children’s released data that showed hospital visits due to COVID-19 jumped from 13 visits in June to 81 in July. The COVID-19 positivity rate also rose from 1.2% in June to 3.9% in July. And it’s getting worse.

“That number is increasing an exponential rate. It’s around 16% for last week, it was 8% the week prior, it was 2% only the one before. That pace is what’s concerning me because schools are not open yet and we’re seeing that increase,” said Dr. Nael Mhaissen, the medical director for infectious diseases and infection prevention at Valley Children’s Healthcare.

In addition to masking in schools, Mhaissen urged families to get vaccinated if they’re eligible.

“Think about the benefit to those around you, to your children, to those who are not eligible for the vaccine,” Mhaissen said.

“I’m not propagating fear, I’m just drawing the public’s attention to the situation. I think it’s better that we stop this before it gets out of hand. Before we get to a situation where we have many patients that require hospitalization and we don’t have beds for them. We are not there yet. We’re far from it, luckily. But I just worry if that pace continues that we may get to a situation like this,” Mhaissen added.

Mhaissen said a majority of kids aren’t getting severely sick from COVID-19, but still, some require hospitalization.

“Some of them are getting really sick. The numbers are obvious on that. Some of them are requiring stay in the hospital really because of the symptoms of COVID, not because of a broken arm who just happened to have COVID,” Mhaissen said. “Some of them are requiring to be in the intensive care unit. Requiring oxygen therapy, requiring to be on the mechanical ventilator.”

Mhaissen said children being physically back in school is important, but schools should be taking safety measures to ensure they’re being as safe as possible.

“My son is six years old, I’m very excited that he’s going to first grade. He will be going in person, he does very well wearing the mask and everyone in my household is immunized, that adds another layer of protection,” Mhaissen said.

After a Clovis Unified Board meeting on July 29 where Board President Dr. Steven Fogg called for more local control regarding COVID-19 guidelines, Valley Children’s CEO Todd Suntrapak sent Fogg a letter saying in part, “I realize the debate is passionate regarding masks, but as one who deals daily with the emotional trauma that strikes too many of our families, I implore you to weigh this carefully — there is a significant amount of evidence about kids, COVID-19, and the science behind masks to slow its spread.”

On Friday, the California Department of Public Health clarified its mask exemption guidelines in schools, saying that families would need a doctor’s note to exempt their child from wearing a mask due to things like a mental health issue, a medical condition, or a disability.

Clovis Unified allowed parents to self attest, and many submitted those forms last week.

Clovis Unified said parents will now need to submit a doctor’s note.

Kristin Heimerdinger, the Association of Clovis Educators spokesperson, said there are still unanswered questions on how schools will exactly look like come next Monday.

“We’re hoping that our district administration and school board will follow the state guidelines and not put up a fight, that we will have the significant majority of our students masked except where there are medical reasons that they cant,” Heimerdinger said.

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