FORT WORTH, Texas — Before Fort Worth school superintendent Kent Scribner decided to issue a mask requirement this week, he received a letter from those who have seen the surge of COVID-19 surge firsthand: Dozens of pediatricians from Cook Children's Medical Center.
Physicians from the Fort Worth hospital, where pediatric cases of COVID-19 have spiked in recent weeks, wrote to Fort Worth Independent School District leaders as "concerned parents or as pediatricians who care for the children we mutually share with your district/school."
"We are writing to you to express our concerns about the Delta Variant of COVID-19 and to recommend that our school district implement safety protocols beyond those that have been in place this summer to address this exigent threat," their letter said. "The rapid increases in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths locally and throughout the US in recent weeks are alarming and require an appropriate response."
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Cook Children's daily average cases have climbed to around 80, the highest since January. As of Friday, Cook Children's had 23 patients hospitalized with COVID-19. Across the North Texas region, there were 55 children hospitalized with the virus this week.
Cook Children's pediatricians strongly encouraged universal masking for students and staff, citing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Cook Children's pediatricians also encouraged all children 12 and over to get vaccinated.
"Please help us honor the health and sanctity of our children’s lives through your sincere attention to these recommendations," the pediatricians wrote to Fort Worth school leaders. "We would welcome the opportunity to collaborate with the district/school in promoting the health and safety of our community during this new and troubling phase of the pandemic. We will gladly provide additional data if it would be helpful, and we are available to answer any questions that arise."
The letter to Fort Worth ISD officials included Cook Children's 10-point guide for safely reopening schools, which the hospital published last month.
Fort Worth ISD joined Dallas ISD and Austin ISD in defying Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order that bans mask requirements from government entities and public school districts.
In a statement Tuesday, a spokesperson for Abbott said the governor's office is "working to protect Texas children and those most vulnerable among us, but violating the Governor's executive orders - and violating parental rights - is not the way to do it."
"Governor Abbott has been clear that the time for mask mandates is over; now is the time for personal responsibility," the spokesperson said. "Parents and guardians have the right to decide whether their child will wear a mask or not, just as with any other decision in their child's life."
Earlier this week, the parents of 12 children in Dallas County filed a lawsuit Monday against Abbott, asking a court to rule on his ban on mask mandates.
The counter-plaintiffs added to Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins's court filing, asking a district court to rule on whether he can require face coverings and overrule Abbott's ban. Currently, most governmental entities can't require face masks under Abbott's order.