(ABC4) – The COVID-19 Delta variant is as contagious as chickenpox and contributing to a surge of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in almost every state, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC.

The variant is characterized by slightly different symptoms from the original COVID-19 strain and is expected to increase to 82.2% for the nationwide proportion of cases.

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And while current vaccinations are shown to be effective and keep people from becoming severely ill with the Delta variant, this leaves children 12 and under unprotected heading into the school year.

In a July 16 press conference, Dr. Andrew Pavia, chief of the University of Utah’s Division of Infectious Diseases, told listeners that more children are being infected with the variant than adults.

“We’re still learning a lot about Delta. What we can say is it’s infecting many more children and young adults than older people, but a lot of that probably has to do with the fact that we’ve done very well at getting vaccine into our older age group,” he explains. “So right now, when we’ve got a lot of disease occurring, it’s going to hit those who are not vaccinated. And those who are not vaccinated are children.”

Pavia says there are some at children’s hospitals who think the variant is causing different symptoms in kids, but that isn’t based on any reliable data yet.

Dr. Pavia says sending your kids to schools with masks is a great way to protect them. He says the picture this fall is going to be very different than we thought it might be when things were looking better, and there’s going to be a lot of concerns about transmission in school.

Dr. Neal Davis, Intermountain Healthcare Pediatrician, agrees.

“We know that the Delta variant is much more contagious and can be a little more aggressive. We’re waiting to see if it’s more aggressive in children. It’s still early to say,” he states.

He says he is getting a lot of questions from concerned parents. The number one thing they can do to protect their children?

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“The number one thing is for those who can get the vaccine, get the vaccine. That is number one, far and away, the most important thing we can do to protect our kids,” he tells parents. “We know the vaccine is effective against the Delta variant. As a society, if we step up for our children in that way, it will make a difference.”

And wearing masks works, he says.

“It is so important for our kids to be in school. The majority of kids are so much more healthy when they’re in school, so the kids showed us, it works. And they showed us, we can do it.

Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome is possibly a side effect of COVID-19 that can appear in children. Primary Children’s has hospitalized nearly 100 children with this, Davis says.

“That can be really significant damage to multiple organs involving the heart and other things.”

If parents have questions about anything COVID-19 related, he recommends they talk to their doctor; someone they trust, about it.

“There are things we do know. We know the vaccine works. We know that when kids wear masks at school, they do great, especially that younger age group where they can’t get the vaccine. We honestly have the tools to do this right and the kids have shown us they can do it,” he states.

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Dr. Pavia says “In an ideal world, what we would do is we would have everyone who can’t be vaccinated or who isn’t vaccinated, mask when they’re indoors in the classroom, and we would vaccinate as many of the kids who are eligible as we could. And if we did that, school would be about as close to normal as we could make it.”

Outbreaks in schools are virtually inevitable, he states. He recommends that parents get their children who are 12 years old and older vaccinated.

“If you want your kids to have adequate immunity on day one of school, now is the time to start the series. the good news is that they can get COVID-19 vaccinations with their other vaccines. That is no longer an issue.”

Furthermore, it’s a myth that it’s not safe to vaccinate children, he says. The side effect profile is virtually the same as in adults.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on July 27 that even vaccinated individuals should return to wearing masks indoors in parts of the U.S. where COVID-19 cases are surging.

Speaking of the Delta variant, Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, Intermountain Healthcare Infectious Diseases Physician, says people have to realize that this is a different virus than the world was dealing with last fall or even last winter.

“The Delta variant is so much more transmissible… if we have children that are unvaccinated and not previously infected coming into a classroom with other susceptible children, and we’ve got a very, very transmissible virus, you’re going to see this virus transmit in school,” he says. “Those children are going to take the virus back to their homes and transmit to susceptible parents and susceptible grandparents.”

That’s just a fact, he says. He also recommends that parents send their children to school masked.

“We know that if you put 30 people into an enclosed room, that you’re going to get transmission… this is a different virus than we were dealing with before, so those measures of spacing the desks, increasing air circulation, a focus on good hand hygiene… By themselves, I’m skeptical that they’re going to work, and so what we know is that masking works, and I would say if I had a school-aged child… I’d make sure that they were going back to school masked.”