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Relaxed COVID-19 Restrictions Raise Anxiety For Parents Of Unvaccinated Children

Milwaukee, Madison Remove Mask Mandates This Week

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A man and a girl wear masks
A man and a girl wear masks as they stop to hear a band outside a music venue Monday, June 29, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. Mark Humphrey/AP Photo

Thomas Sorce does the shopping for his family and said even before Milwaukee’s COVID-19 mask mandate was lifted Tuesday, he saw a lot of people in stores who weren’t following the city’s health mandates.

Now that health officials have removed the restrictions, Sorce is even more concerned for the safety of his 7-year-old son, Ellington, who is too young to be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.

“Until that day arrives, we have to take all the precautions that we can,” Sorce said. “New strands of the virus seem to be impacting children more so than they had a year ago, just through the opening of schools and returning to pseudo-normalcy. I’m just not comfortable.”

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Dr. Kevin Dahlman, medical director of Aurora Children’s Health, said by and large, children have been spared the more severe COVID-19 symptoms, except for some notable cases. But the virus is just as contagious, and many of the new cases doctors are seeing in Wisconsin are in the adolescent population.

“It seems to be creeping down in age,” Dahlman said. “But we are thankfully still seeing numbers drop, and we are anxiously awaiting that vaccine approval for those that are under 12 years of age.”

Across Wisconsin, more and more communities have or are lifting their health restrictions as COVID-19 cases continue to decline and vaccination rates increase. Milwaukee lifted its mandates Tuesday, Dane County lifted its restrictions Wednesday.

Since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced in mid-May that fully vaccinated people can safely resume activities indoors and outdoors without masks or social distancing, some parents have wondered what this means for their unvaccinated children.

Ben Weston, medical director of the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management, said one thing that hasn’t changed throughout the pandemic is children rarely get seriously ill from COVID-19, and if they do, it’s normally caused by an underlying health condition.

To date, out of more than 74 million children in the United States, there have been about 300 COVID-19 deaths and a few thousand serious illnesses, according to the CDC. By comparison, the CDC registered 188 flu-related deaths in children during the 2019-2020 flu season.

Still, Weston said, that’s not a reason to not worry about children getting COVID-19 because of the long-term complications that can come from the virus, including so-called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C).

MIS-C is the inflammation of different organ systems including the heart, lungs, kidneys or skin that can cause severe illness in children, or in rare cases, death.

“The other thing to consider is what we don’t know yet, and that’s honestly what concerns me the most,” Weston said, adding that 25 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds who have had COVID-19 have had long-term effects including fatigue, headaches and trouble breathing.

“There are things we don’t yet understand about this virus,” Weston said.

The best thing to do is get children 12 and older vaccinated, Weston said, not just for themselves but for the community.

About 19 percent of the state’s children ages 12 to 15, or 57,607 people, have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the state Department of Health Services.

Every week, scientists are learning more about the virus and the unforeseen effects it can have on people’s bodies, Weston said, adding parents should use common sense about their children wearing masks.

“Without a doubt we want children to be back to physical engagement, social engagement and all the things they’ve missed out on over the last year,” Weston said. “Generally speaking, kids are safe outdoors without wearing a mask. If you’re mixing households or in places of businesses, you may want to have a higher level of caution.”

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