As A Pediatrician, Here Are My Biggest Concerns About COVID-19

by Alison Escalante
Originally Published: 
Pediatrician examining baby boy. Doctor using stethoscope for yearly child check up
Scary Mommy and Tatyana Tomsickova Photography/Getty

I want parents to be reassured, but not TOO reassured.

This is not a drill. This is the real thing: the global pandemic that doctors hoped would never come. As a pediatrician, I am grateful that kids, by and large, are experiencing mild illness. But as a doctor, I am grieving with physicians all over the world at what is happening in our hospitals.

Pediatricians love to make parents feel better. We are experts at reassuring parents, and I want parents to be reassured about their kids and COVID-19. The fact is, most children are expected to have a mild illness ranging from a cold to flu-like symptoms.

But I am also worried that parents may be too reassured. Sometimes we do such a good job at making parents feel better that they don’t take our advice to heart. How can we reassure the anxious, while getting the attention of parents who need to worry a little bit more?

COVID-19 may not be as mild for children as we hoped. According to AAP news on March 16, 2020 a new study of data from January 16, 2020 to February 8, 2020 on 2,143 children with suspected cases COVID-19 in China showed that 6% of children had severe or critical illness. Of those children with confirmed cases COVID-19, about 3% had severe or critical illness. That’s a lot better than adults, where it’s 18.5%, but that is definitely a higher number than I’d like. And infants had a higher rate of serious illness than children: “just under 11% of infants had severe or critical cases.” That means one in ten infants had serious illness.

It’s true, those numbers might not take into account kids who had mild illness and were not tested for the coronavirus. So we can hope that it’s not as bad as those numbers look. Because I really don’t like those numbers. It remains important to remember that only one 14-year-old boy died in all of China.

I know the parents of kids with high-risk conditions are already taking this seriously. Here’s what parents of kids with asthma need to know. And kids of parents with other underlying conditions can find guidance by the CDC.

But I want to make sure that all parents understand that social distancing is not only to protect others; it’s also to protect your child from being the one who gets seriously or critically ill. Because it looks like people are contagious before they show symptoms, you don’t know who could infect you. Staying away from each other physically can make a huge difference.

Right now, hospitals in Boston, Seattle and San Francisco are beginning to run out of supplies or find that they don’t have beds for all the patients. We all need to work together to slow the spread of COVID-19 so that our hospitals are not too full to care for those who need us.

We can find meaning and community in our shared purpose. Together we can protect the vulnerable by staying away from each other. That’s why I, and every doctor I know, stopped all playdates and sleepovers for our kids.

A few more things:

Protect Grandma and Grandpa.

Let’s all keep your kids away from grandma and grandpa unless you live together. Adults over the age of 60 are the group we are most worried about. We really don’t know yet how contagious kids are with COVID-19. And while there is speculation that kids may not be as contagious as adults, we need more information before we take chances with a disease that is deadly to so many older adults.

Continue checkups.

Adie Bush/Getty

Pediatricians are taking measures to make sure our offices are safe for you and your kids, and we recommend that you continue regular checkups for kids, especially under age two, who need their vaccines. Parents can know they are protecting their children by giving them the strongest possible immune system.

Use Tylenol (acetaminophen), NOT ibuprofen.

On March 17th, the WHO warned against using ibuprofen in treatment of COVID-19. While there is currently no scientific proof, valid concerns have been raised the ibuprofen may worsen the course of COVID-19.

Hold off on that elderberry.

Elderberry syrup and gummies have been very popular this flu season. However, the very reason some hoped elderberry would help with influenza is the reason to avoid it during the COVID-19 pandemic. Elderberry (Sambucol) extract has been shown to increase the body’s production of inflammatory cytokines, which is thought to be helpful against influenza. Unfortunately, right now doctors believe that it’s high levels of cytokines, or specifically cytokine storm, that is killing people with COVID-19.

Call us first.

If you are concerned that you or your loved one has the novel coronavirus, do not walk into a clinic. Call us so we can direct your care and make sure you get the help you need.

Wash those hands well and cough into that elbow!

It’s so easy to forget how powerful hand washing can really be to stop the spread of contagious illness.

Information about COVID-19 is rapidly changing, and Scary Mommy is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. With news being updated so frequently, some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For this reason, we are encouraging readers to use online resources from local public health departments, the Centers for Disease Control, and the World Health Organization to remain as informed as possible.

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