COVID-19 cases seem to be trending down in Southwest Florida, but hospital systems told Fox 4 they're still seeing more kids with the virus.
The Lee County School District is allowing parents to opt kids out of its mask mandate, and other districts in Southwest Florida are not requiring masks. With the decision to wear masks up to kids and their parents, health experts said your child may deal with "mask shaming."
"We are now seeing more and more children get infected and get sick," Dr. Frank Esper, a Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialist for Cleveland Clinic Children's, said.
Dr. Esper said it's important to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines to protect your kids from the virus. One of those recommendations is vaccinating kids who are 12 and older. Dr. Esper understands parents' hesitations about the shot, but said it's the best line of defense for your child.
"These vaccines have shown to be very effective and very safe in children. We watch everybody very closely to make sure there are no severe side effects. But we can tell you that the infection is very severe, so when we balance the benefits and risks, the benefits far outweigh the risk," he said.
Whether vaccinated or not, the CDC recommends social distancing and wearing masks in school. If your child does decide to wear a mask, they may worry about getting teased by other kids. Dr. Vanessa Jensen, a Pediatric Psychologist for Cleveland Clinic Children's has some advice.
"I think parents can do a lot to help their kids understand – and maybe this is a good thing in a bad wrapping, teaching kids early that people have different opinions and every family is different," Dr. Jensen said.
She said parents can coach their kids on how to respond. A child can simply say their parent wants them to wear a mask because they think it's safe. She said if your child asks questions about why they have to wear a mask, explain it in a way they can understand. She said another tip is to model good behavior for your kids; if they see you are accepting and respectful of other people's opinions, they are more likely to be as well.
"And if kids don't want to wear masks and they say my family says it's okay not to do, kids can say okay, that's your family's choice. I respect that. We can still be friends. We can still play. We don't have to make everything into a big deal," Dr. Jensen said.