As COVID cases surge in our community and nationwide right before the holidays, many families have opted to stay home this year. We know mask wearing and social distancing are two things we can do to help mitigate the spread, but we also know there’s not community wide compliance.
We wanted to get an update on COVID-19 in our community and how it is impacting kids. We recently caught up with Dr. Allison Ford Messina, chairman of the Division of Infectious Disease at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, via ZOOM to learn more about what we can do to protect our families as we head into the new year.
TBPM: Does it still appear that children are -in general- not getting as sick when they contract COVID?
Dr. Messina: I think it’s fair to say that across the board, medically complicated people across all age groups have a worse time with this and that is definitely true with children as well. Having said that, this disease is rather random. Even though it is not likely an otherwise healthy child would get really sick, it does happen. You don’t ever know who that person is going to be.
TBPM: Do we know where children seem to be contracting COVID-19? Is it in schools or mostly at home?
Dr. Messina: I would say that we have not seen, at least to my knowledge, a lot of clusters that center around schools to suggest that is where a majority of its going on.
Likely they are getting it in the community from their parents, from their relatives, from their friends, and that just has to do with—again, when you see more cases in the community, you are going to see it in every population.
TBPM: There are a lot of holiday events and even celebrations. What’s safe and what should we avoid?
Dr. Messina: It depends less on the event than what the event looks like-no matter what kind of event you are talking about it, it’s going to be riskier if number one, it takes place inside, number two, if it takes place with a high density of people in a particular indoor space, number three if people aren’t wearing masks and number four, if people are not adhering at all to spacial distancing, the six foot distancing.
So very crowded indoor spaces where people are not wearing masks is the highest risk of transmission of this disease.
TBPM: How about restaurants?
Dr. Messina: Restaurants, indoor restaurants, are particularly problematic when it comes to transmission and a lot of studies have shown that these are just, unfortunately, the situations where people are eating and drinking-they can’t wear masks. If that takes place, especially in an indoor space with a lot of people in an indoor space not wearing masks, that’s what makes it high risk
Outdoor events are probably a little safer but again you still have to adhere to that distancing.
TBPM: Many families are feeling that urge to travel after not seeing family for so long. What’s your advice to them?
Dr. Messina: That’s tricky because of course we all want to see our families. You know, the safest thing to do would be to stay home and stay with your own household. If it were to be an option you could to do the holidays by zoom or by phone, that would clearly be the safest way to go about it.
Travel always has some inherent risk. It’s not about the travel, it’s about how you get there. A crowded airport, a crowded airplane, a crowded bus or train, these things can increase the risk.
Also, going from your house to your aunt’s house, those are two different families—even though you are genetically related, you don’t live together.
So any travel between two households where you don’t live together, that also represents a risk because you are just adding all of those exposures. Now you are exposed to all of the people your aunt was exposed to and etcetera, etcetera, so that’s why we say it’s probably safest not to do those things.
The things I mentioned before: outside, spatial separation, wearing masks, those are all things that could make an event a little safer. So if you were going to go see family, if you could to so outside taking those precautions, that would be better than seeing them inside.
TBPM: The CDC recently updated quarantine procedures. Why is it so important for people to quarantine if they’ve been exposed to COVID-19?
Dr. Messina: One of the dangerous things about this virus is you can be contagious before you are symptomatic -that’s what’s tricky. You can have no symptoms and still be contagious and that is what the quarantine is trying to prevent — those asymptomatic people from spreading disease.
TBPM: When it comes to playdates outside of school, what’s the best practice for kiddos begging to see their friends?
Dr. Messina: Outdoors is better. Masked is better than unmasked. Trying to keep distance. It’s an issue with even my own kids, I always encourage them—we’re not going over to people’s houses, meet at at the park, so you can at least have some kind of separation and encouraging mask wearing-at least they can see each other in a relatively safe environment.
I really credit the school for that because it’s their new normal they just do it. I think the kids are doing a much better job than we thought they would do
TBPM: We know the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a huge emotional toll of a lot of people. You could even say there’s a case of COVID fatigue in our community. What are your thoughts on this?
Dr. Messina: I think it effects people in different ways. I wouldn’t be incorrect to say that everyone is kind of tired of this, myself included, the health care workers in particular have taken quite a onslaught—we’re under the same restrictions as everybody else when we’re out in public, but then we have the additional concern that we do have to go to work.
We want to do our jobs, we want to be there for you, but when you have a surge of disease like that it doesn’t only impact for example how many beds we have in hospitals to take care of people but we also need people to take care of people. IT doesn’t help if you have beds but you have no nurses because nurses are on quarantine.
As medical workers, we are still community members, we still live in the communities, we still go to your schools and go to your stores, protecting us helps us protect the people and then we can be there if you need us. But if we keep seeing the uptick, it’s going to stress everything from beds to staff to people to economy…I think that healthy society is much more functional society.
TBPM: Thank you, Dr. Messina.
Let’s all help healthcare workers so they can help us. Wear the Mask. Social Distance. There is light at the end of the tunnel.
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