165 Cook Children's doctors sign letter urging North Texas schools to implement mask mandates

It was an urgent letter from pediatricians that prompted Fort Worth ISD to change its policy and implement a mask mandate.

Pediatric bed capacity in the North Texas region is currently running at almost 98% with 150 pediatric patients on ventilators. 

Pediatricians are urging cooperation from the public in bringing cases and hospitalizations back down. 

"It's very important that people recognize and understand that we are in very serious circumstances right now with this variant," explained Cook Children’s Dr. Jason Terk.

MORE: Fort Worth ISD to require masks for students, staff for upcoming school year

With just two pediatric ICU beds left in the metroplex, pediatricians are growing increasingly concerned as COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations among children are also on the rise, along with other respiratory illnesses.

"We are absolutely inundated right now with not only back-to-school volume but also uncharacteristically a lot of a lot of sick kids," Dr. Terk said. "And I'm working as hard as I ever have."

In-school learning

FILE - A student wears a mask while listening to her teacher. (INA FASSBENDER/AFP via Getty Images)

Data from Cook Children’s shows a steady increase in positive COVID-19 cases since early summer.

"We're definitely seeing greater numbers than we saw in the two other surges that we experienced in December and in March," Dr. Terk said.

On Wednesday, Cook children’s Hospital had more than 20 COVID-19 patients with five in the pediatric ICU. The hospital’s seven-day positivity rate is at 14%, the highest they’ve seen since last winter.

Meantime, doctors are still trying to determine how the delta variant is impacting children.

"But there have been otherwise healthy kids, this time with the delta variant, who have been in big trouble and have required hospitalization and support," Dr. Terk said. "And that's just really wasn't seen nearly as often with the other surges that we saw with other variants."

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Dr. Terk is also chair of the Texas Public Health Coalition. He says Cook Children’s is not alone in the recent rise in cases and hospitalizations they’re seeing. 

"They're also commenting about the severity of the illness that they're seeing in kids, which is qualitatively different than what they had previously seen," he said.

The rise in cases and hospitalizations along with the contagiousness of the delta variant led more than 165 physicians with Cook Children’s to issue a letter to local school districts urging for as many safety precautions as possible as kids return to school. 

"Everybody who can be vaccinated needs to be vaccinated. And everyone who is in school, whether you're vaccinated or not, needs to wear the mask," Dr. Terk said. "And that way, we can hopefully get through this."

Pediatricians also say with the return of get-togethers and in-person activities, they’re also seeing a rise in other respiratory illnesses, including RSV. 

Read the full letter from Cook Children's doctors below: