Pandemic Parenting Tips from an Infectious Disease Expert
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Dr. Salwa Sulieman is an infectious disease specialist at Nemours Children’s Hospital, Delaware and a mom of three. She recently shared some of her pandemic parenting advice as we start to navigate the end of the Omicron surge.
Don’t let your guard down just because Omicron seems to cause more mild illness.
The more a virus circulates, the more it mutates, and the SARS-CoV-2 virus (that causes COVID-19 infection) has been mutating about every two weeks. Despite the mild illness we’re seeing from Omicron, we just don’t know if another variant could emerge that is more transmissible or more severe. We also don’t want people to think that they don’t need to be vaccinated against COVID-19. New variants are emerging all the time, and being vaccinated is the best protection against future surges.
Get your children vaccinated as soon as you can.
Immunity from SARS-CoV-2 infection is not as good as immunity from the vaccine.
Even if you or your children have had COVID-19, we are going to see natural immunity wane. The immune response is very dysregulated with natural disease. However, we see vaccine immunity lasting longer than that from natural disease, and it’s easier to measure and control with things like booster doses. That’s just one of many reasons to get your whole family vaccinated.
Not sure if your kids should mask? Look to the numbers.
I base masking recommendations on what the numbers in the community are doing. I tend to think about incidence of COVID-19 infection per 100,000 persons, which you can find on the Pennsylvania Department of Health website. Right now, we’re in the 300 to 400 incidence per 100,000, which is high. When you get below 50 per 100,000, you can start thinking about reduction or optional masking. Ideally when you get to 10 per 100,000, there’s very little COVID-19 infection in the community and masks can safely come off. You can also look at PCR positivity rates, which is the number of positive cases among those tested. When the positivity rate is below 5%, optional masking is something to think about.
As a parent, if your school district is already making masking optional, think about who is in your household and who is high risk, and look to those numbers to help you make a decision for your family.
Getting COVID-19 is not a scarlet letter.
COVID-19 is everywhere and it’s going to be a thing many of us develop. People who do all the right things still get COVID-19. It happens, and it’s no one’s fault. As long as you know you’re doing all the right things for your family – masking, getting kids to wash their hands, getting vaccinated – you’re doing great. It’s tough to break the stigma, but don’t let that stop you from being truthful if you or your kids do get sick. The more we can spot COVID-19 infections quickly and isolate those who are sick, the more we can do to stop its spread.
We can learn to live with COVID.
It’s very possible that COVID-19 will become endemic, meaning that it becomes seasonal, and we see large peaks in Fall and Winter. However, we have a vaccine, we can mask, and we know what to do to protect ourselves. As long as we are all vaccinated as recommended, continue to wash our hands regularly, and stay home when we’re sick, we can protect ourselves and our kids without massive shutdowns and dramatic increases in hospitalizations.
Trust the experts and the science.
Not everyone is an infectious disease expert (even though it feels like these days everyone has to be). So when in doubt, trust the experts. Nemours Children’s Health has great resources on their website and Nemours KidsHealth.org is the most-searched site for information about pediatric health and development. Their COVID-19 articles are updated regularly and reviewed by doctors. The CDC website also has the most up-to-date recommendations on vaccination, testing and quarantine.
At the end of the day, things are getting better. In four weeks, the number of COVID-19 cases will be dramatically lower, and warm weather will also lead to another drop. Hang on a little longer. We can do this.