After a year of social distancing, how do parents make sure their kids don’t get sick?
When COVID-19 forced kids to stay home, the germs they could potentially catch and carry decreased dramatically. But what happens now that kids are going back to school? New York and New Jersey have the most COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and highest death rates in the country. In March, the number of new infections increased 37-percent in little more than a month, according to an AP News article. Plus, children may not be vaccinated for a while, according to David Buchholz, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. “Nothing has changed for children at this point in the pandemic. The youngest may not get vaccinated until 2022, when the studies are complete.”
Until then, how do parents keep kids protected as they are reintroduced to pre-pandemic activities? We asked Dr. Buchholz to weigh in.
Will my child get sick more easily?
The good news: Although children might get sick more easily than they did during the peak of the pandemic (when they were isolated), they won’t be more vulnerable than they were pre-pandemic. Their immune systems have not been compromised by the lack of interaction—and there are likely less germs circulating. “The use of face coverings, social distancing, handwashing, and isolating when ill has dramatically reduced contagious diseases during the pandemic,” Dr. Buchholz says. “These precautions will continue to help reduce illness as children socialize more.”
In fact, when kids return to “normal” social interaction, their risk of getting sick will be on par with pre-pandemic levels—or might even be reduced. “I’d like to believe that the lessons learned about handwashing and isolating when ill may persist, and reduce contagious disease transmission for, at least, a while,” Dr. Buchholz says. These habits also safeguard against the common cold and other viruses, so kids should continue to wash hands for at least 20 seconds (and sneeze into their arm instead of their hand).
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Will my child spread COVID-19?
As adult vaccinations increase, people might be worried that kids will continue to transmit the coronavirus. Fortunately, Dr. Buchholz says, this is not the case. “Studies have shown that the spread of COVID-19 occurs less among children in elementary and middle school, while transmission in high school students is more similar to how adults contract the virus,” he says.
However, that’s no reason to let your guard down when it comes to protection: COVID-19 can be spread through ventilation systems in schools, during indoor after-school sports, and in child care programs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition to all of the regular safety precautions, parents should request that teachers and administrators open windows whenever possible and use fans to ensure proper air circulation.
When can kids get the vaccine?
As of press date, Pfizer/BioNTech is testing the vaccine in children ages 12-15, followed by those ages 5-11. Moderna is conducting two studies: one on children ages 12-17 and the other on kids between the ages of 6 months to 12 years. Results should be available by summer. Once a safe and effective dose is determined, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will review data before authorizing it for distribution.
Dr. Buchholz says children will be considered immune two weeks after completing a single-dose vaccine or two weeks after the second dose of a two-dose vaccine. Until then, face-coverings, hand washing, and isolation will need to continue. Parents should also boost their child’s immune system with a healthy diet, which is especially important these days—childhood obesity levels have increased 2 percent since the start of the pandemic, as a result of reduced availability of healthy lunches, easier access to snacks, and more screen time, according to a study in the journal Pediatrics.
What precautions should kids continue to take?
After parents are vaccinated, kids can safely see grandparents. “Per the CDC’s guidelines, an unvaccinated, asymptomatic child may visit a single-family household who has been vaccinated—such as grandparents—without the need for masks or social distancing,” Dr. Buchholz says.
After kids get vaccinated, they should still take precautions as in-person classes return. The CDC advises parents to stay in touch with their school staff and teachers and avoid sending kids to school with a fever of 100.4 or higher, or if they exhibit symptoms of diarrhea, severe headache, vomiting, or nausea. Sending your children to school with sanitizer and encouraging them not to share musical instruments, writing instruments, or books can also slow the spread of COVID and the common cold. That said, if both kids and adults are vaccinated, families can cautiously start to resume normal activities—and look forward to a brighter, less isolated future.
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