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'They literally can't be vaccinated': Kindergartener tests positive for COVID-19 as Arizona ranks 2nd among pandemic-related deaths

“I feel like I’ve done the group project and everyone else just didn’t participate,” said Heidi Kim after her 5-year-old tested positive for COVID-19.

PHOENIX — The debate of whether schools should require masks had real consequences beyond school hours. The lives of students, teachers, faculty and communities are at stake. 

Heidi Kim's 5-year-old daughter, Irene, and 8-year-old daughter, Rosalind, were excited to start the school year in the classroom at Eduprize Elementary in Queen Creek after homeschooling last year. 

But Kim's focus was on her daughters' safety as she dropped them off for the first day of class. 

“When I dropped her off at kindergarten, I was crying," said Kim. "Not for the normal 'this is my youngest baby, going to kindergarten, and will she make friends?' But because I felt like I was dropping her off in a petri dish.”

The Kim family said they've followed the Centers for Disease Control safety guidelines, wearing masks and social distancing. Kim and her husband are both vaccinated and eagerly waiting for the vaccine approval for her little girls. 

"They literally can't be vaccinated," said Kim. "Schools need to be able to mandate that kids wear masks." 

Kim said that despite her daughters wearing masks, 5-year-old Irene tested positive for COVID-19 and Rosalind is showing symptoms. 

“I feel like I’ve done the group project and everyone else just didn’t participate,” said Kim. 

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, less than 70% of people 20 years old and younger are vaccinated against the virus as the Delta variant continues to spread across the state. 

Arizona ranks second for COVID-19 related deaths among children

Data collected by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association found that Arizona currently ranks second in COVID-19 related deaths with 34 among people 19 years old and younger. Texas has the highest number. 

On Tuesday, Banner Health Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Marjorie Bessel told reporters that Arizona's largest healthcare provider has seen a 95% increase in COVID-19 cases. Five percent were among pediatrics. 

"We have seen an unusual surge of RSV disease within our pediatric population," said Dr. Bessel. "That makes us concerned about the upcoming winter." 

The American Academy of Pediatrics also reported a sharp increase in pediatric cases from last week. More than 71,000 new cases among kids were reported, up 84% from the week prior and five times the amount since the end of June. 

Kim said she wants all Arizona schools to be able to mandate masks and vaccination in order to protect kids.  

“Go today and get the shot for free today! That would have helped to protect my kids, who've spent the last year and a half protecting other adults,” said Kim.  

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