GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — As students return to school, COVID-19 might be on the minds of a lot of parents especially in districts where face masks are not required.
So how should they handle a sick child? And when should they keep them home or get them tested?
It’s a big question since the COVID-19 vaccine is still not available to kids under 12.
We sat down with a pediatric infectious disease doctor to find out what parents need to know when it comes to sending their kids to school when they’re not feeling well.
It may be somewhat of a return to normalcy this fall as kids head back to class.
Some of them – if they’re old enough – might be vaccinated against COVID-19 which would help slow the spread inside the schools. Some buildings may also require masks.
“I think we all want to compare COVID-19 to influenza because we want to have something to hang our hat on and say this is what we can expect. Unfortunately, being an expert in the field, I still don’t feel comfortable enough with COVID-19 to give a prediction for how it’s going to behave season after season,” said Dr. Rosemary Olivero, a pediatric infectious disease expert at Spectrum Health.
She tells us over the past two weeks Helen Devos Children’s Hospital has cared for three to five children a day with COVID. They haven’t had severe cases but they were isolated.
“So, if your child has new symptoms and you’re concerned they could be related to COVID-19, always just call the school,” said Dr. Olivero.
Parents can also visit their local health department’s website for guidance.
“And it will walk you through the workflow for what would happen depending on if that person is vaccinated or not and if they’ve had close contact with somebody known to have COVID-19 or not,” she said.
A big concern with COVID is the fact that those under 12 cannot get vaccinated yet. So, if they’re riding a bus with others who might be infected, or sitting next to them in class, they’re not really protected.
“And I would err on the side of keeping your child at home and not getting on a school bus and not going into school until you have that sorted out just so you don’t accidentally expose anybody else in case they are harboring the virus that causes COVID-19,” said Olivero.
Kids will no doubt run fevers and get a runny nose or cough. Dr. Olivero says those shouldn’t be any different than any normal school year.
“So, if your child has a fever greater than 101 they would of course need to stay home and they would always need to stay home until they’re fever-free for 24-hours regardless of the cause. And if they are indeed diagnosed with COVID-19 then that means they would need to self-isolate, at home, for the full 10 days.”
If they have a severe cough or a new loss of taste or smell, those are big red flags for COVID and the child should stay home.
Parents should always be careful when comparing COVID with the flu.
“Certainly both are respiratory illnesses, both can make you feel very ill, can give you days of high fevers, can give you a respiratory tract infection which can make you very ill and some children will need to come to the hospital for either,” said Olivero.
The hospitalization rate for kids with COVID in West Michigan has ranged from 2% to 3%. Some later develop Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome. Doctors are also looking at how many kids with COVID will end up having “long” COVID.
“And that’s the more chronic symptoms that you have after COVID-19 which can range from brain fog to poor concentration all the way to exercise intolerance and blood pressure issues when you’re going from laying to standing,” said Olivero.
We heard from Dr. Olivero for more than 30 minutes. She talked about masks, social distancing, even COVID and athletics.
Her full interview can be found below. And as always with medical advice – talk with your own pediatrician as every child and their symptoms are different.