The Delta variant is a new threat to young children.By Andy Sheehan

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — They’re too young for the vaccine, and they’re susceptible to the Delta variant.

As KDKA has been reporting, more and more children are ending up in the hospital with COVID-19. Now with schools opening in the next two weeks, many parents are asking: Is it safe to send them?

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The Delta variant is a new threat to young children, but public health experts and pediatricians say it’s safe to send your kids to school, provided everyone wears a mask.

“More kids are getting sick with the Delta variant,” said Allegheny Health Network Pediatrician Dr. Ned Ketyer. “More kids are getting severe cases of COVID.”

As in the rest of the country, the number of cases among children in Allegheny County is increasingly alarming. In July, there were 25 cases among kids under the age of 4. Already in August, that number has jumped to 67. Among children 5 to 12, 85 cases in July and 121 not two weeks into August.

But even though 50 children have recently ended up in UPMC Children’s Hospital with COVID-19, pediatricians and public health leaders say schools can open safely, provided they take the necessary steps.

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“They’re going to be prepared with sanitizer and handwashing stations, with keeping kids 3 feet away or more, but they need to be prepared to have everyone in school wear a face mask,” Ketyer said.

But that last part has become a hotly contested issue that is dividing school boards across the region. The CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Allegheny County Health Department call it the most important defense for unvaccinated children.

Nora DiNuzzo’s 5-year-old daughter Olivia is entering kindergarten at McKnight Elementary School in the North Allegheny School District, where whether kids wear masks will be up to parents. Nora DiNuzzo, who helped organize a parent group calling for masks in school, said her daughter won’t be going to school if it isn’t made mandatory.

“If they don’t change the policy to have masking be required, then I’m going to be looking into cyber school opportunities for Olivia,” said Nora DiNuzzo. “It just seems really irresponsible for NA and other school districts not to put the health and safety of our children first.”

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The North Allegheny School Board will be hearing from the public on masking again on Tuesday.