The past 3 weeks have been anything but normal as COVID-19 has changed our daily landscape. Kids are out of school, parents and teachers alike are having to learn how to do distance learning, there is no date night with your spouse, and your social media feeds are filled with scary headlines about an enemy that is striking down those we love and yet we still know very little about the why and how of this foe. No one has all the answers right now, but I want to let you know a few important things about COVID-19 and possibly help you to decipher some of the flashy news stories.
What is Coronavirus?
Human Coronaviruses as a whole are by no means new. In fact, most people have likely had a coronavirus at some point in their life as these viruses typically cause mild respiratory illnesses like the common cold. So then what is the difference with COVID-19? It appears that this particular coronavirus likely started in bats. In the past, those coronaviruses that started in animals and then spread to humans have caused more significant illnesses. The two prior coronaviruses to start in this particular manner were SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) in 2003 and MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome) which surfaced in 2012. The COVID-19 virus is “novel” meaning that until December 2019, this strain had not been identified in humans.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
Reported symptoms include fever, cough, body aches, sore throat, headache, and diarrhea. The WHO has estimated that 1 in 6 people with COVID-19 will have a more severe illness that will include shortness of breath and difficulty breathing. Now, those milder symptoms could also describe this year’s influenza illness or even just the common cold. Take away message here…not every cough, fever or body ache is COVID-19. However, if you have fever, cough and any difficulty breathing, you need to call your medical provider immediately for guidance on where to be evaluated.
Who really needs to be tested for COVID-19?
The testing capability for COVID-19 is increasing across our area, but that does not mean that tests are readily available for everyone who wants to be tested “just because.” Those that are over 60 years of age, have diabetes, underlying severe lung disease, severe kidney disease or are immunocompromised or are a health care worker are primarily the groups that testing is indicated. Now, in pediatrics, those under 10 weeks of age, those with congenital heart or lung disease or those that are immunocompromised are the main groups of children who would meet testing criteria at this time. As tests become more available (and easier to get results as well), then these testing criteria might expand further. In the end, most COVID-19 tests can take up to 7-9 days to come back, so if there is any suspicion for COVID-19, presume that you have it and isolate accordingly.
I see that numbers of cases in Baton Rouge and Louisiana are jumping by hundreds or more each day. What does this really mean?
Let’s put these numbers into perspective. Test results are coming in usually 1 week after the test is done. So that means that the increase you see in numbers today were more than likely from the tests done a week ago. This goes to further show that Coronavirus is in our community and has been for some time. It does not mean that social distancing and other measures to slow the spread are a failure, but it likely shows that people might not have been practicing as strict isolation measures a week ago.
COVID-19 and Children
Is COVID-19 causing illness in children?
As a pediatrician and a mom, this is one of the most important things that I am keeping an eye on. To this point and in looking at data from China as well as across the US, the number of cases of COVID-19 in children has been dramatically low. YEA! Do a happy dance!! Now, this is not to say that there have not been some children hospitalized with COVID-19 and even several deaths, but the rate of children becoming seriously ill has been drastically lower than what we are seeing in the adult population. The reason for this trend in children is puzzling and yet another aspect of COVID-19 that we are trying to figure out. Perhaps a child’s immune system is handling this virus differently than an adult. Perhaps because children see other strains of coronavirus all the time (i.e. the common cold), they have some protection for this novel strain. Either way, for now, it seems that kiddos are doing ok through this pandemic.
What is research telling us about COVID-19?
Doctors love to have studies to back up what we are thinking or what we recommend. We love big, sweeping studies that include hundreds of thousands of people and studies that have variables that we can control and test. We just don’t have those kinds of studies in regard to COVID-19, at least not right now. Currently, doctors from across the US and the world are working together through panel discussions, message boards, and small data collections groups, telling of their patient experiences with this virus, telling what has worked or not worked for treatment, and sharing as much information as possible so that we can try and learn as fast as possible about how to handle COVID-19. Those big sweeping studies will be coming, but they will take time.
Should I wear a mask in public?
As we are learning more about COVID-19, the recommendations for wearing a mask in public have changed. Initially, masks were only recommended for those who had coronavirus. We now know that many people who have COVID-19 can be asymptomatic with no obvious symptoms, and we also know that people are likely to be able to spread the virus before they start showing symptoms. With this new information, the CDC made a recommendation on April 3, 2020, that everyone should wear a NON-SURGICAL, cloth mask when going out to necessary public places (remember you should not be going around town for non-essential trips anyway). This can be a mask sewn with fabric, a bandana to cover the nose and mouth, or there is even a video on the CDC website with the Surgeon General showing how to easily make a mask at home. Please note that surgical masks and especially N95 masks are NOT recommended for the public as there is already a frightening shortage of these supplies which are vital for our healthcare workers on the front lines of this pandemic.
How about wearing gloves in public places?
Think about this scenario…you put on latex gloves to go grocery shopping. With your gloves on, you touch the shopping cart and your groceries. You then reach in your purse to pull out your phone which has your shopping list. You then get out your wallet to pay for the groceries. When you load all the bags into your car, you then take off your gloves. If you are like most people, you will probably then touch your phone before starting your drive home (remember you touched that same phone with your gloves on). Then you touch the steering wheel to drive home. Once home you take the bags out of the car and unpack your groceries. Again, remember you had on those gloves when you were touching these items before. Hopefully, you can see that you are just causing the same contamination with gloves while probably giving yourself a false sense of security. The bottom line here…gloves are not needed. Please just make sure to wash your hands (all the time, 20 seconds each time) and wipe down surfaces such as your phone especially if you have been out in public.
Is daycare a good idea?
Bottom line here is that if you can keep your children out of daycare, then do so. However, I know that there are families where the caregivers are essential personnel and have to go to work. There are also families that cannot afford to have caregivers not working. This is a decision that will be personal to each and every family. Ideally, for those daycares that are open, children that attend as well as all staff should have their temperature checked at least twice per day, and PLEASE do not send kids to daycare if they are sick (none of this give a fever reducer in the morning for a fever and sending them on their way)!
How about those playdates?
I have had plenty of families asking me if playdates with friends are ok during social distancing. If we view this time just as we would a surprise snow day or summer break, then we have missed the mark for social distancing. If we have any hope of slowing the spread of the COVID-19 (notice I said slowing the spread and not stopping the spread), then we all must work together to limit our contact with others. While calling several friends to see about a playdate for a group of children is certainly a tempting break from trying to navigate the waters of e-learning, I really advise against it.
I think the most important thing to take away from reading this is that there is a lot that we are still learning about COVID-19, but scientists and doctors are working tirelessly and feverishly to learn and understand this Beast just as fast as we can. Please make sure and do your part by staying home, following shelter in place mandates, and above all else, WASH THOSE HANDS!
“Ask the Experts” is a series on Baton Rouge Family Fun where local experts share their thoughts, opinions and answer questions relating to health, wellness, parenting and living in Baton Rouge.
Disclaimer: The purpose of this site is to share experiences with food, fitness, health, and life as well as opinions from some of our local experts. This content is for informational purposes only and isn’t a substitute for professional medical advice. When it comes to your health or the health of your child, please be sure to contact your physician.