Part 2: Answering YOUR Questions about COVID-19 and ChildrenChildren's Health
Southwest Florida public schools officially opened Aug. 31. Whether you’ve decided to send your child to school or have them attend virtually, your concern, of course, remains your child’s health during the pandemic.
In advance of the new school year, Lee Health pediatric health experts addressed your concerns and questions at a virtual town hall hosted by Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida on July 22. (In case you missed it, the hour-long event can be viewed on Golisano Children’s Hospital Facebook page.)
We revisit our experts’ key answers to your questions from July’s virtual town hall, update others with the latest information available, and ask some of our own questions. (This is the second of a two-part series. You can read the first part here).
Golisano Children’s Services team members Dr. Emad Salman, medical director, and Dr. Stephanie Stovall, infection prevention medical director, recognizing that the decision-making process for sending a child to school is unique for each district, school, and family, focus on the science around COVID-19 and children.
Q: Do you recommend children who are showing mild cold symptoms be tested?
Dr. Salman: If your child is having symptoms, I would advise that you consult your physician. Most kids, even if they're positive for COVID-19, don’t need to be hospitalized. The only reason we test them is to determine if they’re positive with COVID-19 or the flu. If they are, then we can isolate them to protect other people around them. Keep them at home and away from public spaces. Again, we need to practice the same precautions we’ve talked about: Regular hand washings, disinfecting surfaces, and social distancing.
Q: What about children who are not able to wear a mask?
Dr. Salman: As a reminder, following the CDC’s recommendation, masks should not be worn by children under age 2, or anyone of any age who has trouble breathing, is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.
There is some data emerging that younger children, usually the ones who can’t wear a mask, may not pose a significant risk for COVID-19 transmission. We don't know exactly why, but they don't transmit the disease as easily as adults or children who are over 10.
That said, the bottom line is kids can get infected, but they tend to have less severe disease. The concern is that children could spread the disease to others, including adults who are more likely to develop complications. That’s why the CDC recommends we treat children over age 10 as adults, when it comes to COVID-19.
Q: What are the long-term consequences of getting COVID-19 as a child?
Dr. Stovall: At this point we really don't know what the long-term consequences could be for children who get COVID-19. The vast majority of the children we’ve seen in our hospital have fully recovered with no apparent long-term effects. A very small number of children have developed a multi-system inflammatory disease process. This may lead to a greater chance of long-term effects, but we’re not entirely certain.
Q: If a child has been exposed to COVID-19 but shows no symptoms, should they be quarantined?
Dr. Stovall: The CDC guidelines state that true exposure occurs when two people without masks remain within 6 feet of each other for 15 minutes or more. The child should be quarantined for 14 days away from other people from the last date of exposure.
Q: When will we have a COVID-19 vaccine?
Dr. Stovall: There are clinical trials going on right now. You can search for them online and sign up for one. Vaccine trials take anywhere from six to 24 months to develop, and then another year to make available to the public. I don't anticipate a usable widely spread vaccine for at least another 12 months.
In the meantime, on Aug. 23, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave emergency approval for expanded use of antibody-rich blood plasma to help hospitalized coronavirus patients. Known as convalescent plasma therapy, the treatment may be effective in lessening the severity or shortening the length of Covid-19 illness in some hospitalized patients, particularly those who receive it early. According to the FDA not all patients with COVI-19 will benefit. Also, its availability is limited by blood donations.
(Lee Health is currently recruiting individuals who have previously tested positive for COVID-19 whose symptoms have resolved can volunteer to donate blood. To volunteer, call 239-343-2332 or email COVID.plasma@LeeHealth.org. To learn more about convalescent plasma therapy, visit here.)
Q: Should I vaccinate my child against the flu?
Dr. Stovall: Absolutely. You want to avoid the double whammy of your child possibly contracting COVID-19 and the flu at the same time. Cases of influenza B were reported during the summer, so you want to be proactive. Schedule your child’s vaccination with your physician. Ideally, the vaccine should be administered by the end of October, but vaccination should continue to be offered as long as influenza viruses are circulating locally and unexpired vaccine is available.
Also, the CDC recommends that children aged 6 months through 8 years who require 2 doses should receive their first dose as soon as possible after vaccine becomes available, and the second dose at four or more weeks later. Visit the CDC or the Florida Department of Health to learn more about flu prevention. In this year of COVID-19, it really matters.