By Peter D'Oench

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A prominent health expert is applauding a new recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics that says all children over the age of 2 should wear face masks when going back to school.

Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease expert at Florida International University, tells CBS4’s Peter D’Oench, “The American Academy of Pediatrics came out with a statement that I fully support, that is that children should be wearing masks in school.”

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She says that applies to unvaccinated as well as vaccinated children. She is concerned about the latest data.

“We are seeing more and more cases in young people and the bulk of the cases right now are in cases 12 to 39 years old with the highest concentration being people in their 20s. We still have huge rises in younger cases,” she said.

“The symptoms are a little different with the Delta variant causing runny noses and causing less taste and smell issues,” she said. “But it is just as dangerous if not more so. People who are infected have higher viral loads and those higher viral loads that they are shedding mean those protected can be overwhelmed.”

Marty said “It is really important for children to mask up when they are in an enclosed space for 8 hours. You have to think of every public health measure as a plus.”

Karla Hernandez Mats, the President of the United Teachers of Dade, says curbing COVID-19 and protecting staff, students and the community is a primary concern.

The nation’s 4th largest school district has more than 356,000 students and more than 18,000 teachers. Classes resume on August 23rd.

In a statement, Hernandez Mats said, “As we see the Delta variant and hospitalizations among the unvaccinated on the rise, we continue to encourage those who can to begin the process of getting fully vaccinated now, before school begins and have their children continue wearing the masks.”

Raul Barocio said he will take no chances when he returns to J.B. Bermudez Doral Senior High School next month.

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He told D’Oench, “I will most likely be wearing a mask and obviously I will most likely be vaccinated by then. Just to be safe it is better to use a mask even if it is optional. You should never underestimate this. It could come back in another way, maybe mutated.”

His mother Veronica Rivera applauds his decision to wear a face mask to school.

She said, “He is taking care. It is a good idea to be careful.”

Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said on Monday, “We are maintaining the position announced a couple of weeks ago of masks optional as we return back to school. Our position is based on current environmental conditions in Miami-Dade and based on the scientific information available to us which includes lower positivity rates than we had just months ago. And second, the availability of hospital beds in our community and equally important the availability of vaccines.”

He added, “Obviously we are speaking with our federal partners to try to understand when the release of the vaccine for younger children will be made available to children because that will stabilize conditions in our community and beyond.”

Carvalho said “Seventy percent of our residents in Miami-Dade have been vaccinated. That means we are approaching the herd immunity level that is required to stop the virus from spreading. We continue to consult with medical experts.”

In Broward, Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said on Tuesday that face masks would be optional when students return to school but he also said that could change because of a recent surge in coronavirus cases.

Broward Schools will be discussing that issue and “other protocols” next Tuesday at a workshop, according to a spokeswoman.

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Caitlin Stella, the CEO of Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital, told CBS4 “That’s really where immunity comes from. Herd immunity is that everyone else gets vaccinated. All the people that can get vaccinated and then it reduces that exposure. The faster we get people vaccinated the faster we return to normalcy, not even just children, all of us.”

Peter D'Oench