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(INDIANAPOLIS) – Doctors at IU Health’s Riley Children’s Hospital are urging kids to mask up at school.

Riley says it’s seeing Indiana’s coronavirus surge firsthand. In the last week, 70 kids have come to the emergency room with COVID-19, two or three times what the hospital was seeing earlier in the pandemic.

Dr. John Christenson, Riley’s medical director of infection prevention, says while most of those patients haven’t required hospitalization, some do. Statewide, 52 patients under 20 have been hospitalized for COVID-19 so far this month — more than all of July, and double the number in June.

Christenson acknowledges masks have been controversial. But he says they’re an effective way to reduce the spread of respiratory illnesses. He credits masks with the virtual disappearance of flu last winter, with only one pediatric flu death in the entire country.

Christenson and Riley associate chief medical officer Brian Wagers say doctors have closely watched data from Australia, where summer was six months ago. They say the relaxing of masking and social distancing was quickly followed by a rebound of not only COVID-19, but respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which Christenson says is also rising at Riley.

Christenson says while masks may be inconvenient, they need to be part of the solution to making sure in-person classes can continue. He says they’re a lot less inconvenient than having to quarantine because of close contact.

Christenson blasts opponents who have gone beyond questioning the value of masks to label them “child abuse.”

“That’s foolish, okay? That’s nonsense that people continue repeating,” Christenson says.

Christenson notes kids under 12 can’t be vaccinated. He says that means it’s up to parents to protect them, by wearing masks and getting the vaccine themselves so they don’t expose them.

Wagers cautions parents need to avoid coming to the emergency room to get their kids tested for COVID. He says one of the biggest challenges for Riley’s ER doctors has been processing the large volume of patients to assess who needs to be admitted. He notes testing is available at hundreds of pharmacies and health departments without adding to emergency room traffic.