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Primary Children’s doc rebuff’s Utah gov.’s comments on masks

By Jamie Lampros - Special to the Daily Herald | Jan 14, 2022

Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

Gov. Spencer Cox receives his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine Thursday, March 25, 2021, in Spanish Fork.

Primary Children’s Hospital infectious disease expert Dr. Andrew Pavia on Friday disputed comments made by Gov. Spencer Cox, who spoke earlier in the day about mask effectiveness against the omicron variant of COVID-19.

The issue was aired as Primary Children’s reported 22 hospitalized kids on Friday, the highest number seen in one single day.

In an earlier press conference, Cox said cloth and surgical masks don’t work effectively against the omicron variant because of its larger viral load and particles shed from individuals. Pavia said his comments were misleading.

“He misspoke in a way that’s going to cause a lot of confusion,” Pavia said. “We have good, better, best. The best protection is an N95 mask if it fits correctly. K94 and KN95 will have even better protection against the droplets that come in. Next is the surgical mask. If everyone is wearing a surgical mask, the level of protection is pretty decent and a cloth mask is better than nothing.”

Pavia, who serves as director of epidemiology at Primary Children’s and chief of the division of pediatric infectious disease at the University of Utah, said even though omicron causes less severe disease in many people, the number of cases is unprecedented.

“We had nearly 13,000 cases yesterday and that’s clearly an under count, so the numbers aren’t even giving us the full picture,” he said. “Omicron is different in children and is affecting more young children 0 to 4 because these kids have no way of being vaccinated.”

Pavia said kids coming into the hospital are having a hard time breathing and have more croup-like symptoms, wheezing and secretions, but most are only being hospitalized fewer than two days compared with those hospitalized with the delta variant, which caused severe pneumonia and required ventilation.

“But that doesn’t make it mild for children. We are seeing very large numbers of children becoming very ill so don’t just let them get infected and assume they’ll just have cold-like symptoms. Your child might be one of the otherwise healthy kids who might end up very sick in the hospital,” he said.

Pavia said the emergency department is being flooded with children coming in with COVID and other respiratory diseases such as influenza, para influenza and respiratory syncytial virus.

“Everything is stretched and it’s difficult to give care for trauma and cancer patients. We need to reduce the size of this surge so we can take care of everyone,” he said.

Pavia said if your child is sick, keep them home for five days and ideally test them at the end of that period. Even if they test negative, they should wear a mask for a full 10 days, he said.

“I know people don’t want to hear that, but the masks do work. And even though most people will have mild disease, many don’t, so we need to prevent that and have compassion. We need to stop politicizing and fighting over masks and mandates and vaccinations. That requires all of us to come together.”

Pavia said if you get vaccinated now, it won’t protect you for the remainder of the month, but you’ll be ready to fight it off in February.

“In the meantime, practice distancing, wear a high-quality mask, improve ventilation and stay home if you’re sick. That way, we can deal with this in a way that will hopefully make things start to look better in February and March,” he said. “Things are not black and white. Omicron is less severe, but what gets lost is the fact that it’s causing more disease and disruption.”

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