WEB EXTRA: Top Omaha pediatrician says COVID is worse than the flu and that masking is safe for kids

Posted at 5:01 PM, Sep 03, 2021

Dr. Kari Simonsen is the Pediatrician-in-Chief at Children's Hospital as well as the Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Nebraska Medical Center where she is also a professor in the pediatric infectious disease department.

She spoke with 3 News Now Digital Content Manager Katrina Markel about some of the questions that are being raised around the safety of children wearing masks in schools and the risks that COVID-19 poses to children.

"The evidence for safety on masks is really, very clear and in fact, those of us in healthcare have been wearing masks for most of the day — well certainly 18 months....everyone working in an operating room, for example, wears a mask all day long and has for eons. so, it's not a risk to humans to have a mask over their mouth and nose in a general sense. And that does also apply to kids." explained Simonsen.

She says that school-aged kids are not at risk for wearing a mask during the daytime. It is not recommended for kids under the age of two or for children who may not be able to remove the mask by themselves should they need to.

There is good data, Simonsen said, that a layered approach to preventing outbreaks of the virus in schools is most effective: physical distancing, ventilation, masking, washing hands and washing surfaces.

Simonsen also explained the difference between the flu and COVID-19. She said that while the mortality rates are similar, COVID has a higher hospitalization rate.

"The morbidity and the long-term consequences have been much more impressive and striking with COVID than for flu. So, for example, during a typical flu season, we usually hospitalize around 46,000 kids in a year. With COVID, we've hospitalized over 200,000," said Simonsen.

She also says that long-haul COVID symptoms are impacting children as well as adults.

"Prolonged fatigue, headache or kind of that brain fog or difficulty with concentration. Things that linger weeks to months after the infection occurs — that's almost unheard of with influenza and it's very common with COVID and it's also common with kids," said Simonsen.

She went on to explain the concerns about the availability of beds, staffing issues and the unusually high rates of RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) in children.

"Our frontline nurses are really exhausted," said Simonsen.

There is evidence after more than a year of this pandemic that COVID spread within a classroom will result in further outbreaks in the community. She also said that the delta variant is more transmissible and "more people are becoming infected from one case that's in their midst."

ALSO SEE: UNMC doc says masks are safe for kids, misinformation continues to be an issue

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