Winter is difficult for many people and can leave both parents and children feeling pent up and isolated. This year, those feelings were magnified by the stress of a post-holiday surge of COVID-19 and the pressures of balancing virtual school with the responsibilities of work and daily life.
As summer approaches, pediatrician Sarah Nielsen, MD joined a Community Conversation on April 15, 2021 to share information on keeping kids healthy and safe.
She said it’s important to listen and acknowledge the stress people are struggling with and encouraged everyone to take advantage of the warmer weather to get outside and get active.
What can parents do to help keep kids safe and healthy this summer?
There are three important things parents can do this summer to keep their kids healthy, Dr. Nielsen said.
- Hydration — When the warm weather arrives, kids will be outside exercising and sweating. They need to drink lots of water to replenish what they lose as their activity increases.
- Sun protection — Dr. Nielsen suggested parents get a new bottle of sunblock that is easy to apply and appropriate for all ages. She added that parents should consider another layer of protection, such as a sun shirt or a rash guard.
- Protection from bug bites — Besides mosquitoes, which are a nuisance, kids need to be protected from insects that carry disease, such as ticks. She suggested finding a child-safe bug repellent from an outdoor store and exploring ways to use clothing to keep bugs away from the skin.
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How important is it for kids to visit their pediatrician if they missed a physical or a checkup in the past year?
Dr. Nielsen acknowledged that many people may have skipped basic health care appointments during the pandemic, but she expressed assurance that visiting the pediatrician for a routine checkup, vaccinations and other wellness services is both safe and important. Summer camps and organized activities often require a visit to the doctor for a physical or a health form and Dr. Nielsen encouraged parents to take proactive steps to keep their kids healthy.
Do kids still need to wear masks and social distance this summer to protect them from COVID-19?
Kids will still need to follow all of the safety protocols to protect themselves and others from COVID-19 this summer.
Dr. Nielsen emphasized the importance of continued vigilance. “These things (masks, distancing, hand hygiene) are critical. And I feel badly having to repeat the same thing over and over, because I know that we are all tired of hearing it. However, it is still so important until we can really get vaccination rates high enough that people are protected across the board.”
How can we encourage kids to wear a mask if they are unwilling?
Modeling good behavior is the key to compliance from kids. Dr. Nielsen observed that when adults wear masks, kids generally follow.
“You know what’s actually remarkable are young children, when they are around people who are masking, insist on wearing a mask. It becomes less of an issue. I think if they’re in a situation where they’re not seeing adults and peers masked, obviously they’re going to be more resistant. But when the community at large is masked, they will join in.”
When kids play outside with other kids, they often take their masks off when they are out of sight. What is the best way to discourage this behavior?
Dr. Nielsen agreed that if kids are playing together and are out of your sight, they are more likely to take their masks off. She said that the best way to discourage this behavior is to find families who share your concerns about the level of protection kids should follow.
“At the end of the day, you want to feel that you’ve done the best for your family. And so if you’re comfortable without wearing a mask and you feel like you have a group where that’s comfortable, then that’s what’s right for you,” she explained. “But, if you feel that the neighbor isn’t (at) the same level of caution that you are, then that’s not comfortable for you and you shouldn’t put yourself in that position.”
What information should summer camps provide about their safety guidelines?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics have issued COVID-19 guidelines for child safety and protection. Summer camps and organized recreational programs should have protocols in place that reflect those guidelines.
Dr. Nielsen said it is reasonable to ask how those guidelines and protocols will be implemented to keep kids safe and healthy. She added that camps and recreation programs should also have guidelines about hydration, sun and insect protection.
How vulnerable are kids to COVID-19?
Dr. Nielsen cautioned that information is scarce about children and COVID-19 and that it is difficult to draw conclusions about the impact of the virus on younger populations.
“The data on children is smaller than the data on adults, because the rates of COVID in children are lower than the rates of COVID in adults,” Dr. Nielsen advised. “We haven’t completely fleshed out why that is. We have some guesses, but we don’t know. When the rates go up in the community in adults, the rates follow in children. So it seems to be on a parallel.”
Statistically, children with COVID-19 are less ill and are hospitalized less frequently than adults, Dr. Nielsen said. In the absence of more evidence, decisions about how children should interact in school, in public spaces, and during outdoor activities need to be individualized for specific circumstances and considered in concert with a pediatrician who knows your family’s health risks and vulnerabilities.
When will children under the age of 16 be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccination?
Dr. Nielsen encouraged everyone who is eligible to take advantage of the opportunity to get the vaccine. As of the conversation on April 19, everyone aged 16 and older could receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Now, everyone ages 12 and up can be vaccinated.
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Research is being conducted for a COVID-19 vaccine that is safe and effective for younger children. Until one becomes available for your child’s age group, Dr. Nielsen urged patience and said she remained optimistic that one will be approved.
What is the best way to choose a pediatrician?
Dr. Nielsen said that her medical practice sees patients from newborns up to those 18 years of age. It is important to find someone with whom you can develop a relationship so the doctor will be familiar with your family history and health status. Choose a pediatrician whose personality, advice and style you can connect with, she said.
Atlantic Health System doctors provide an extraordinary level of care and she encouraged people to find a pediatrician within the system. Find a doctor >
Will summer look “normal” this year?
Dr. Nielsen said she was hopeful that this summer will be a relief and a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with the familiar rhythms of the season.
“I think over the winter, we’ve relied a lot on technology, which has been a great boost. We’ve used video games to help our kids just catch a break and technology to communicate with others,” she observed. “And I think this is a great moment to pivot, to actually connect with humans in real life. So get outside and move. It’s a great moment to start looking towards normalcy in a safe way, including masking and handwashing and social distancing. But I think we can do both. I really do think we can do both!”