Five Things to Know about COVID-19 as Kids Head Back to School

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Provided by UVA Health

Going back to school this year was supposed to look a little different after the rollout of the vaccine and communities starting to show signs of normalcy. Instead, COVID-19 cases are spiking again, mask mandates are back in some institutions, and community spread is higher than ever.

Jennifer Rickerby, FNP, a pediatric nurse practitioner at Olde Towne Pediatrics – Manassas, understands that it can be overwhelming for parents and students alike to return to in-person classes as cases continue to rise in our communities, especially among children.

“Now it’s more important than ever to keep children as safe as possible while going back to school,” she said.

Rickerby shares five things to know about COVID-19 and a few precautions you can take to help make this school year a healthy one.

New variant affects kids more than previous strains

The Delta variant is the most contagious variant we’ve faced yet and is infecting children more than previous variants. Cases among children under 18 years old are higher than they were during the winter spike and are continuing to climb.

“Children under 12 can’t get the vaccine at this point in time, so we all play a role in protecting them. The best way to do this is to get vaccinated,” Rickerby said.

Vaccines are essential.

Children are required to receive certain immunizations before going back to school, according to the Virginia Department of Health. Vaccines help prevent diseases like diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, chickenpox, polio and measles – as well as pneumonia and rotavirus diarrhea.

“Also, the COVID-19 vaccine is the best protection against the coronavirus,” she added.

As of Aug. 23, the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine is fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration for those over the age of 16. The Pfizer vaccine is approved for Emergency Use Authorization for those 12 to 15, and the Moderna two-dose and Johnson & Johnson one-dose are both approved for Emergency Use Authorization for those over 18.

Delta symptoms are different

The Delta variant doesn’t necessarily come with the same symptoms as the original COVID strain.

“The Delta variant presents more like a cold,” Rickerby said. “We don’t see as many cases that have the telltale loss of taste and smell that we associate with Alpha COVID.”

Children typically present with coughing, sneezing, runny nose, sore throat, maybe an upset stomach or headache, some fatigue, possibly fever.

Rickerby also added that COVID-19 is also presumed to lag in children.

“In other words, a child may be sick for a week with mild symptoms, and then a month later become very, very ill and have to be hospitalized.”

If your child has any of these symptoms, call your pediatrician and ask about getting tested as soon as possible.

Annual checkups should be a priority.

Many students get a physical because they’re required to in order to play sports. However, parents should prioritize annual physicals for their children, regardless if they play sports.

At an annual check-up, your pediatrician performs an evaluation of their physical, developmental, emotional and social well-being – aspects that may not be measured with a sports physical. Your child should see a pediatrician every year to make sure they’re in good health and that doctors have the chance to catch problems early.

“Especially with community transmission as high as it is right now, being proactive and seeing a pediatrician for a well visit gives them a chance at staying as healthy,” Rickerby noted.

Make it OK not to be OK.

“It’s normal for you and your child to be nervous about returning to school now. What we’ve been referring to as ‘the new normal’ doesn’t feel all that normal,” Rickerby said.

“If a child brings up that they’re scared, always acknowledge that is normal. Sometimes, young children and even teenagers think, ‘This is how I truly feel, but it doesn’t seem like there’s someone else who feels that way.’”

Talk to your child about the importance of listening to their body and checking in with themselves constantly. Prioritize your family’s health and well-being, one person at a time.

For more information about coronavirus safety, visit NovantHealthUVA.org/coronavirus.

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