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DES MOINES, Iowa – Local schools will soon be faced with challenging decisions when it comes to COVID-19 guidance. The American Academy of Pediatrics is now recommending anyone above the age of two wear masks in school settings. 

It’s been a busy summer for pediatricians in the metro, treating kids for respiratory illnesses that they say have been delayed this year.

“I’d say probably over the last three to four weeks, [we’ve] definitely seen an uptick of illnesses that I would commonly associate with the winter months,” Dr. Eric Reynolds, a pediatrician with MercyOne, said.

It’s the same scenario for Dr. Stephen Rinderknecht, a pediatrician at UnityPoint. “The ones that are spreading the most respiratory syncytial virus or RSV, a really common virus all kids end up getting that they typically get in the wintertime,” he explains.

The doctors say the unseasonal sickness is most likely being brought on by the relaxing of pandemic restrictions: fewer masks and less social distancing. Come fall, they are concerned the upcoming school year will bring its own set of challenges with COVID-19.

“I fear that if we go back to school like when the mask mandate was ended abruptly with two weeks to go in the school year this last academic year, if we continue forward with that then our kids will pay the price,” Dr. Reynolds said.

Both doctors agree with the new guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics that says all students older than two and all school staff should wear face masks, regardless of vaccination status.

“All parents, I think we can agree that we need to do what’s safest for our kids and what’s safest for our kids right now is for everybody to continue to wear a mask in a school setting,” Dr. Reynolds said.

With the delta variant spreading and coronavirus cases and hospitalizations increasing across the nation, doctors urge people to get a shot if they haven’t in order to protect those 12 and younger who are not yet eligible to receive one.

“As numbers continue to go up in our clinics and more families are figuring this out, I would say by the end of August or early September I think there’ll be a different reality for a lot of families if they continue to be unvaccinated,” Dr. Reynolds said.

Both doctors are confident a vaccine for those 12 and younger will not be ready by the start of the school year.

A spokesperson for Des Moines Public Schools says its health services team is meeting at the beginning of August to determine its back-to-school recommendations.