As medical students at Western University in Lebanon, we are thankful for the overwhelming support from our community. From the Bag Ladies who provide our very first doctor bags every year, to the countless small businesses who serve us each day, we feel so welcome and at home in this town. We feel strongly that we are a part of this community, and we would like to give back in any way we can. Surviving the COVID pandemic has affected us all in a multitude of ways, and we all want to end this pandemic as soon as possible and get back to our normal lives.
As nation-wide COVID cases rise, and new variants emerge, we are now seeing rising cases in children at an alarming rate. Adults must work together to protect children, especially as many return to classrooms. We commend our community for the work that is already being done to keep kids and families safe, and we encourage increased vaccinations, wearing masks, and other safety measures.
We thank Linn County for hosting a mass vaccination site in Albany, where many local people were vaccinated against COVID-19 between April and July. We were honored to help administer some of these vaccinations.
The American Association of Pediatrics recommends a set of guidelines to maximize children’s safety during the pandemic, including masking, increasing vaccination rates for those 12 years of age and older, and physical distancing. The Lebanon Community School District has outlined a back-to-school plan that emphasizes many of the safety measures that the AAP recommends. These policies are crucial to provide barriers to virus transmission while children continue to foster important relationships and advance their education.
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As we prioritize children getting back to classrooms, there is more we can do to protect them. The scary reality of this pandemic is that children are not immune from severe illness or death from COVID-19. As of Aug. 26, more than 4.7 million national child COVID-19 cases were reported, with a 9% increase in the number of child-specific cases in just the two weeks prior. In Oregon specifically, children make up 17% of total cases. And while most patients recover, we’re seeing an increase in long COVID in children. A study by The Lancet Child Adolescent Health found that 1.8% of children surveyed experienced symptoms for 56 days or longer. For those children, the virus has a significant impact on their education, as well as their quality of life. So how do we balance school and safety?
The Lebanon Community School District’s policies are a great start, and without higher vaccination rates among parents, community members, and students, the possibility of school COVID-19 outbreaks now is significantly higher.
As of Sept. 21, 56.1% of the Linn County population 12 years of age and older are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. As medical students and members of the Oregon Pediatric Society, the state chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, we encourage parents to get family members 12 years and older vaccinated. Widespread vaccination helps protect those who are unable to receive the vaccine including younger children. OPS hopes the Pfizer vaccine for ages five to 11 will be available in Oregon in November. Check with your primary care clinics about receiving the shots there.
Thank you for standing with us as we continue to navigate COVID-19 and keep our Lebanon community safe. With your health and the health of your loved ones in mind, let us all do the right thing and wear our masks, wash our hands, practice physical distancing, and of course, vaccinate. Together we can end this pandemic!
Mabry Gentry, Sol Khaitas and Samar Fakih are second-year medical students at Western University of Health Sciences College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific Northwest, and members of the Oregon Pediatric Society.