JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. – A member of Gov. Ron DeSantis’s transition team who has advised Republicans on health-related issues is warning parents that unmasked children are spreading COVID-19 in schools, putting those students at risk for a rare but potentially fatal medical condition.
“If your child is in a school now, and there is no masking, it is highly likely your child is being exposed, even if they are asymptomatic,” Alan Levine, CEO of Tennessee-based hospital system Ballad Health said.
Levine was co-chair of DeSantis’ Transition Advisory Committee on Health and Wellness. He previously served as the secretary of Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration under former Gov. Jeb Bush before advising former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Republican Governors Association.
“I’m a freedom loving, 2nd amendment supporting, federalist Republican, and while I strongly disagree with those who feel masking is an infringement on liberty, I do understand where these folks are coming from,” Levine wrote in a Facebook post shared by Ballad Health. “THAT HAVING BEEN SAID: political choices come with tradeoffs.”
Levine, who currently serves on Florida’s university system Board of Governors alongside Florida Department of Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, said “thousands upon thousands” of children are being exposed to COVID-19 in schools without the full range of mitigation measures like masking.
“As these kids bring the virus home with them from school, their family, if unvaccinated, will be exposed. This will increase hospitalizations in the coming near term for those who have severe symptoms,” wrote Levine, noting that hospital capacity is being stretched in many parts of the country.
“More children and teens will be hospitalized,” Levine said.
Christina Pushaw, DeSantis’s press secretary, disputed Levine’s claim that unmasked children are being exposed to the virus in classrooms.
“There is no data to back up that assertion,” Pushaw told News 6. “Mask mandates do not have a statistically significant impact on the spread or prevalence of COVID-19 in schools.”
Pushaw shared data with News 6 from a voluntary survey of school districts that attempts to provide educational leaders and policymakers with information about COVID-19 infections in schools.
“(The) assumption that forced masking of children will prevent COVID-19 transmission is faulty and an inadequate basis for policymaking,” Pushaw said. “Every family has the right to choose whether their own children wear masks to school or not. Forced masking [and] mask mandates do not prevent the spread of COVID-19 in school.”
Levine’s Facebook post does not specifically call for mask mandates in schools but instead highlights the potential consequences for failing to mitigate the virus.
“Parents, you need to familiarize yourself with a condition called Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children - or MIS-C. This condition seems to accompany the virus which causes COVID, although science is still trying to understand how it happens,” wrote Levine.
MIS-C leads to inflammation of the heart, lungs, brain, eyes, skin or gastrointestinal system, according to Levine, and has been found in children who either contracted or were exposed to COVID-19.
“MIS-C can be deadly, but timely medical care is proving to be effective. Generally, children with MIS-C will need to be hospitalized,” said Levine, who noted that children’s hospitals nationwide are already filling up with COVID-19 patients even though most children who test positive do not require hospitalization.
“(Our) system of health care for children is not built for this kind of surge. So, other kids, who have other medical needs, may find it challenging to get the care they need,” wrote Levine.
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not know what causes MIS-C, Levine said children who were merely exposed to others with COVID-19 have contracted MIS-C.
“Well, in the schools, that’s happening now,” wrote Levine. “So, as COVID spreads through the schools, particularly in schools where there are no, or limited, mitigation efforts underway, the die is already being cast for what is to come in the coming months.”
Levine said MIS-C symptoms include fever along with abdominal pain, bloodshot eyes, tightness or pain in the chest, diarrhea, feeling extra tired, headache, low blood pressure, neck pain, rash or vomiting.
He urges parents to seek emergency care immediately if a child experiences trouble breathing, persistent chest pain or pressure, confusion, inability to stay awake or discolored skin, lips or nail beds.
“I hold many of our leaders and others who disagree with me in very high regard, and so my comments here are not intended to imply that I have a broad disagreement with them,” Levine wrote in the Facebook post. “But on this issue, I am concerned for where this is taking us, and I worry about it.”
Read Levine’s full statement below: