The COVID-19 delta variant is surging in Alabama, and with schools about to reopen, Dr. David Kimberlin pleaded with the public to get vaccinated and to push for mask-wearing in schools.
“We’re seeing it some in children, and I’m really, really. I’m scared,” Kimberline said.
The UAB pediatric infectious disease expert was speaking Thursday during a Facebook Live event held by the Medical Association of the State of Alabama. State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris also spoke, and both answered questions from the public.
After Thursday’s Facebook Live discussion The Washington Post published an article detailing an internal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention slide that states the delta variant spreads as easily as chickenpox, and is more transmissible than Ebola, the common cold, smallpox and the 1918 Spanish Flu. The newspaper reported that the document states that officials must “acknowledge the war has changed.”
The data behind the slide has still not been published, but the CDC cited that data, and breakthrough delta cases of vaccinated people, when the CDC on Tuesday updated recommendations on masking. The CDC is to publish the full data Friday, the paper reported.
Alabama has seen more than 2,500 cases a day for the last three days, Harris said, and the rate of accelerating COVID-19 hospitalizations is concerning.
“It’s going up at a much faster rate than we saw even back in December and January, when our numbers were so difficult,” Harris said of the state’s hospitalizations.
Harris said hospitals can handle the current load of COVID-19 patients but “the rate at which these numbers are going up is unprecedented. We have not seen it before, and so I think that makes us really nervous.”
Harris said the Alabama Department of Public Health would release its school toolkit, which will include the recommendation that all students over 2, and all teachers and staff, in K-12 schools wear masks regardless of vaccination status. That’s in line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, which were updated Tuesday.
“Everyone, vaccinated or not, needs to be masked inside because we need to decrease the likelihood of the spread of this,” Kimberlin said.
“This Delta strain is different, and it is bad,” Kimberlin said. “We are standing in a tunnel right now and the train is accelerating at us as we speak.”
Arkansas Children’s Hospital is flooded with more children with COVID-19 than at any point during the pandemic, Kimberlin said.
“That is our future unless we do something really important now,” he said.
Asked about myocarditis, an inflammatory heart condition that has been flagged in a very small segment of mostly young males after Pfizer COVID-19 vaccinations, Kimberlin said it’s “exceedingly rare” and much more apt to happen from the virus than from the vaccine.
COVID-19 has proven itself to impact the heart and can have long-lasting health repercussions, Kimberlin said. COVID-19 can also cause Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in children, which can result in the swelling of multiple organs, Kimberlin said.
“This is something that happens in children a lot of times who are asymptomatic,” Kimberlin said. “You don’t realize they ever had the COVID virus and about three, four weeks later they have this hyper-inflammatory response and that as well can impact the heart.”
“So the effects on the heart of the virus itself are real and they are common. They can be long-lasting. The impact on the heart from the vaccine is exceedingly rare,” Kimberlin said.
A study published Thursday out of the U.K. found that young males between 12 and 17 are six times as likely to develop myocarditis from COVID-19 than from the vaccine, The Guardian reported.
Kimberlin explained that the impacts of COVID-19 on children can’t be dismissed. As a liaison from the American Academy of Pediatrics liaison to the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, Kimberlin has attended meetings where the committee debates vaccines for children.
“COVID in 2020 was the 10th leading cause of death in children in the United States,” Kimberlin said, describing watching in the winter as a 16-year-old was put on an ECMO machine, a more complicated life-saving device that can help save the very sickest of COVID-19 patients.
“Looking through my face shield, which was kind of fogged up because of my N95 mask and my other mask on top of that, looking into the eyes of the parents and the grief that they were experiencing at that time,” Kimberlin said.
Kimberlin’s 92-year-old father contracted COVID-19 from a worker in his Texas long-term care home in November, before vaccines were available. He died within five days, he said.
“What we do has real consequences on others when it comes to a highly infectious disease,” Kimberlin said, urging the public to get vaccinated.
Asked what parents can do to ensure the schools mask all children to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Kimberlin explained that it’s clear children need to be in school, but it’s also clear that everyone in school needs to be masked.
“Call your superintendent and call your school principal and tell them how uncomfortable you are, and tell them that you want everyone masked,” Kimberlin said. “Because there’s a lot of people out there that have true misinformation on what masking does.”
“People say that it suffocates people. It does not suffocate anybody, and they’re out there spreading it and they’re loud and they’re mad,” Kimberlin said.
“We need to present loving, concerned voices. We are the majority. I am convinced of that,” Kimberlin said. “And we need to make sure that the leadership of our schools realize that we are concerned about it as parents.”