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| Children and adolescents were the focus of “Our Students and COVID-19,” a virtual expert panel held on September 20. The UAMS Institute for Digital Health and Innovation (IDHI) has partnered with the Arkansas Department of Health to answer questions through Pandemic Zoom.
Panelists ranged from primary care physicians to healthcare leaders. They included Jennifer Dillaha, MD, chief medical officer and medical director for vaccinations with the Arkansas Department of Health; Robert H. Hopkins Jr., MD, professor of internal medicine and pediatrics and head of the UAMS division of general internal medicine; Joel Tumlison, MD, Arkansas Department of Health; Jared Beavers, MD, pediatrician at Arkansas Children’s; and Veronica Raney, MD, child and adolescent psychiatrist at Arkansas Children’s.
The nearly 300 attendees, which included parents, students, and educators from across the state, submitted approximately 100 questions ahead of time and during the 90-minute evening presentation hosted by Franklin Gray Jr., MD a hospitalist with UAMS, and Baylee Field, a coordinating program with the IHDI.
The questions included questions about vaccination and quarantining young people, the benefits of masking, lingering concerns and how the stress of the pandemic is affecting our children.
Dillaha began by explaining COVID-19.
“It’s a new disease for humans and therefore humans have nothing in their immune system to fight it off. It is a respiratory virus that infects the lungs, and it can range from a mild illness with almost no symptoms to severe illness and death. It can also cause long term effects.
Since last spring, COVID-19 has gone from the initial Alpha strain to the more current delta variant, which started in India and can infect two to three times as many people exposed to it, she said. There are now revolutionary cases in which fully vaccinated people are infected.
“We are now seeing more children infected with the delta variant than with the previous ones,” Hopkins said.
He said it was very important for children with respiratory illnesses to be tested for COVID, noting that not all children will have a high fever and other symptoms may vary.
“It’s hard for doctors to determine what type of respiratory infection a child may have, and unless you get tested, you can’t tell if it’s COVID.”
It’s also important that anyone 6 months and older get a flu shot this year, Beavers added.
The panelists also explained why those who developed antibodies to COVID after contracting it still had to be vaccinated.
With the arrival of the delta variant, it’s unclear what type of COVID or what level of protection those who already have the virus may have.
“Getting the vaccine gives you better protection,” Hopkins said, adding that among current cases of children ages 8 to 18 with COVID-19, only 2.8% were fully immunized.
Just like adults, children who are obese or have weakened immune systems, chronic breathing problems or diabetes are most at risk for COVID, Dillaha said.
“But perfectly healthy children can also contract COVID. “
Masking is very important, Hopkins said.
“We are dealing with a respiratory virus, and you have to think of that in terms of layers of protection,” he said. Wearing a mask provides one layer, while other people around you wearing a mask provide another. Vaccines and frequent hand washing do more.
“We need to do whatever we can to reduce person-to-person transmission,” Hopkins said.
Dillaha reminded attendees that the virus is spread through droplets emitted when breathing, coughing, singing, laughing or cheering, and masks prevent the droplets from traveling.
“The most important thing is to have a comfortable mask that fits well from the bridge of the nose to the tip of the chin and replaced with a new one often or washed regularly if it is a fabric,” Hopkins said. .
Dillaha explained that the recommendations keep changing as the virus is constantly evolving.
“We need to be flexible and change our recommendations as the science evolves,” she said.
Be careful where you get your information from, Hopkins warned. “Don’t get it from Facebook or other social media. If you really want to know the science, get it from scientists and sources like the Department of Public Health, Centers for Disease Control, or UAMS.
Hopkins said he expects the FDA to approve temporary emergency use of a vaccine for young children in the coming weeks or months.
“When it does, my youngest children will be in line,” he said.
The rare risk of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine causing heart inflammation in adolescents is no reason to remain unvaccinated, Dillaha said, adding that the inflammation was short-lived for the few young people who have it. experienced, and responded to Tylenol treatment.
“What people don’t understand is that COVID itself can cause inflammation of the heart. COVID-19 is four times more likely than the vaccine to cause heart inflammation, ”she said.
In a quick-fire question-and-answer session, the panel shared that vaccines do not alter DNA, do not give someone COVID, are in no way created from aborted fetuses, will not render not someone magnetic, or will not affect fertility or menstrual cycles.
Hopkins stressed the importance of keeping sick children at home until they are better.
“If your child is sick, he is likely to pass it on to someone else,” he said.
When asked why the return to class was not delayed or virtual learning was not extended, Raney said studies have shown that the benefits of learning in the classroom outweigh fractured or distance learning and a national survey of teachers found that those who attended virtually were three to six. months behind in learning.
She added that many children find it difficult to learn and many families struggle to feed themselves and benefit from their education.
Raney has confirmed that depression and suicide have increased due to the pandemic.
“Stress has increased for both parents and children, and children are learning from their parents,” she said.
“Suicide attempts among girls aged 12 to 17 increased by 50% in a 30-day period between February and March 2021 compared to the same period in 2019,” said Raney.
Those who choose to teach their children at home need to make sure they have a routine and structure for their day, a distraction-free space in which to work, and the opportunity to spend time with their peers.
“The warning signs of depression in children include changes in their eating and sleeping habits or if there are changes in their personality, particularly outbursts of anger or talking about hurting or getting hurt. make allusion to. “
“The best thing to do is talk to them about it,” she said.
Help for those having difficulty can be found on UAMS ‘AR-Connect at 800-482-9921 and the Arkansas Department of Health Lifeline Call Center at 800-273-8255.
Raney said some ways to tackle the challenges of the ongoing pandemic include eating well, getting enough exercise and rest, and trying to maintain social interaction through Facetime or outdoor gatherings with social distancing.
“Parents usually take care of everyone, but it’s really important that they take care of themselves as well. “
When it comes to getting back to normal, that’s no longer possible, Dillaha said.
“We have to think in terms of a new normal,” she said, suggesting finding new routines and new ways to benefit from each other.
“Think of yourself as part of a society and how you can contribute to it,” Hopkins said. “It includes hand washing, wearing a mask, getting vaccinated if you can, and social distancing. “
“And give yourself and others a little bit of grace, because it’s a tough time for everyone,” Raney said.