Alabama medical and mental health experts explain impacts of COVID on children at AL.com town hall
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How do I tell my child about the vaccine? How effective is a mask on a five year old?
These were among the questions that experts in children’s health and well-being answered at an AL.com COVID-19 town hall on Wednesday.
City Hall was the first in a series of five Facebook Live segments, presented by AARP of Alabama and AL.com, which aim to answer questions from the public about the coronavirus and its impact on different aspects of the life of the Alabamians.
In the first installment, Dr. Karen Landers, Assistant Public Health Officer, Alabama Department of Public Health, Middle School Mental Health Services Coordinator Camille Underwood, and Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist Dr. Amin Gilani, answered questions about the psychological and physical effects of COVID-19 on children. .
Currently, children aged 0-18 make up about 25% of COVID-19 cases statewide, with child cases reaching 9,000 – an all-time high.
“This virus this year is not the virus from last year,” Landers told viewers on Wednesday, echoing calls from health experts across the state to get vaccinated and mask themselves in the inside and outside schools.
Here are their answers to common questions about children and COVID-19:
Do guardians have to approve their children’s immunizations? How should children who want to get vaccinated bring up the subject with their parents who might be against vaccinations?
Clinical trials of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in young children are still ongoing. All vaccines administered by ADHD or offsite clinics require parental permission for children 12 and older, Landers said.
[Editor’s note: It was not clear at press time whether this was a departure from previous guidance; some districts, such as Huntsville, have previously required parental consent for some, but not all, students. Alabama law allows people 14 and older to make some medical decisions for themselves.]
“We need to respect the decisions of others and help people make science-based health decisions,” Landers said. “When children are involved in something that is unfortunately more political than it should be, we need to have an open dialogue. “
Gilani said open communication is essential for productive conversations, and health decisions shouldn’t feel pressured. Landers reminded viewers that they can always come back for the shot if they need more time to assess their options.
“If you are not going to vaccinate, please mitigate,” Landers said. “Because we absolutely have to stop this virus. “
How should parents and schools tell children about preventive measures?
Discussions about public health can teach children valuable skills, such as social responsibility, social awareness and self-management, Underwood said. She encouraged schools to facilitate small group discussions about what students think about the vaccine, which can also provide staff with a way to crack down on misinformation.
“It’s an opportunity to stay connected and stay informed about things that affect them on a daily basis,” she said.
Gilani said that for parents to have productive conversations, they need to sit down as a family and ask their children what they know about the vaccine. Listen to the opinions of family members without interrupting or judging them, he said, and then help them find reliable sources that will help them make their own informed decisions.
“Once you have heard them fully, determine if there is any misinformation and where the source of that misinformation is located,” Gilani said. “Social media created this notion that [the vaccine is] completely dangerous or that they have negative side effects, which just has not been proven.
Gilani said children are less likely to experience negative mental health effects if they feel they play a role in masking and school choices.
“Instead of telling them what to do, ask them, ‘Are you going to wear a mask because you want to save lives?’ “, did he declare. “Let them make the decision. “
How likely is a 5-year-old to catch the virus or pass it on to others?
Landers said she and other health experts previously believed that children under the age of 12 couldn’t spread COVID-19 as effectively, but that has changed as the delta variant continues to infect more and more children across the state.
“[Kids are] just as effective as adults at spreading COVID, ”Landers said. “So I don’t think we need to have a false sense of security about children’s ability to spread COVID because they can absolutely get COVID and they can absolutely pass COVID to other people. “
More children are now hospitalized with COVID-19, and the state has seen more than 100 cases of MIS-C, a rare inflammatory syndrome associated with cases of COVID-19 children that has led to at least a handful of children in hospital over the past weekend, Landers said. Between 6% and 10% of children can develop long-lasting symptoms of COVID – including chronic headaches, fatigue and an inability to concentrate – which could affect their ability to perform in an academic setting, she said. declared.
What does research say about the effectiveness of masks? Is there a negative psychological outcome of expecting children to wear masks?
According to experts, more and more data shows the effectiveness of masking in schools. Landers pointed to a study from Duke University, which showed universal masking in schools limited high school cases.
As of a month ago, about a third of school districts in Alabama had adopted mask mandates. Now, over 90% of neighborhoods require universal masking. Dr Landers said these efforts, along with social distancing, cleanings and routine testing, can help mitigate the spread.
“It is very important to support our schools to do whatever they do to keep children safe,” she said.
Gilani said that even in very young children, there is no evidence to suggest that wearing a mask universally can have negative mental health outcomes. Social exclusion, which is more likely to affect masked children in districts that do not have a mask mandate, has a more detrimental effect, Gilani said.
“If they see that everyone is wearing masks, it becomes normal for them. ” he said. “Simple measures can save lives. Why shouldn’t we do it? “
How do children cope with the change of direction?
Middle schools went virtual for several months last year, and many parents and students were concerned about this year’s in-person learning. Underwood said it had a negative impact on the mental health of students and staff.
A support system, she said, can be “a saving grace” for students and staff, and she urged schools to keep lines of communication open to students and parents.
“Kids are a lot more flexible than us, and it’s easier for them to pivot,” she said, noting that younger people tend to want to socialize more. The ability to stay in school, she noted, was a motivator for students to stay safe.
When will school nurses be able to take COVID-19 tests at school?
Weekly testing, in addition to mitigation standards such as masks, social distancing, environmental cleaning and good respiratory hygiene, are essential to keeping children in school, Landers said.
But the state does not impose mass testing, so it is up to schools to work with providers to perform surveillance testing. The University of Alabama at Birmingham coordinated a grant to conduct weekly tests at the school, and several schools have already signed up, Landers said.
Why am I not notified when my child’s classmate has coronavirus?
State health officials recommend that schools notify families to slow the spread of COVID, but it is not mandatory. The ADPH recommends that close contacts who were at least 3 feet from a student who tested positive should not need to be quarantined as long as both people were masked and remained asymptomatic.
Read more: What are the Alabama School COVID Quarantine and Close Contact Rules?
“It’s important that parents are constantly aware that COVID is out there, that COVID is in the community,” Landers said. “Now, if a school universally masks and follows mitigation guidelines, you dramatically reduce the number of children in the classroom who would be considered contacts.”
Will COVID-19 become a mandatory vaccine in schools?
No. Alabama law specifically prohibits schools and universities from requiring the vaccine. Landers encouraged eligible groups to get vaccinated.