Immunologist urges masks in schools, says children of color more prone to serious illness


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Dr. James Hildreth, Meharry Medical College President and member of President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, is speaking out against the push to stop requiring masks in high transmission areas and schools.

The world-renowned immunologist says wearing masks is the best way to keep kids from getting sick. COVID-19 has been a returning topic of conversation for many families.

“I don’t want to catch it or get sick or die or something like that,” Reginald Henderson, a Nashville native who’s trying to keep his mother safe from COVID-19 said.

COVID-19 cases are surging across the country as the debate about masking up is heating up again. This time, reemerging just before the start of the school year.

“The pandemic is not over and some people believe that we can go back to normal, fully normal as we were prior to December 2019; that’s certainly not that case,” Hildreth said.

Dr. Hildreth says masks are the best tool besides a vaccine to get through the pandemic.

“We now know breakthrough infection can occur; no vaccine is perfect and these certainly aren’t,” he said. “But on top of that, those that cannot be vaccinated because they are children or have some other condition…we definitely need to make sure we’re wearing masks.”

The immunology expert says elected officials who say “science shows that children don’t need to wear a mask” are wrong.

“Science does not teach us that,” Hildreth said. “What science teaches us is just the opposite; children have the virus receptors just like adults. Children get infected; children get sick and some children die.”

There have been over 160,000 children sick with COVID-19 in Tennessee.

Disproportionately, children of color have been affected by the virus.

“Minority children, Black and Brown children, are particularly of interest because they’re more likely to get really sick from COVID-19 and to die from COVID-19,” he said. “Because they do tend to have more underlying conditions than white children do.”

Currently, those 12 and older are eligible for a vaccine.

There have been 10 deaths among those 20 and younger in Tennessee. The state’s current vaccination rate is at 39 percent.

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