Rappahannock Area Health District
As students proceed through their third straight school year that has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of voices offering advice can often feel overwhelming. Lisa Pastore, a COVID-19 epidemiologist with the Virginia Department of Health, urges parents to remember that they’ve learned a lot over the past 21 months of navigating the pandemic, and to keep coming back to the simple acts of masking, washing hands and assessing risk in social and group situations.
Here are some basic rules to keep in mind when the chatter about pandemic practices gets to be too much:
Masks—Fit and comfort should be your priorities
You could spend hours online scouring the hundreds of options for children’s masks. Pastore urges parents not to stress out over finding the “best” mask that exists. Instead, find one that fits your child’s face snugly, and that is comfortable enough that he or she will keep it on all day.
If you want to check to see if the mask will sufficiently filter air, Pastore recommends holding the mask up to a light. If you can see light through it, it’s probably not a sufficient filter.
“As a parent, you should be reminding your child to wear the mask consistently on the bus and at school during the day when you are not eating or drinking,” Pastore says. “We know that kids are social, they are going to want to talk. We want them to do that, but you can still do that with your mask on.”
She urges parents to remember that the behavior they model is the behavior their children are most likely to follow.
“As a parent, you can model wearing a mask to your kids,” she says. “Model taking it off to take a drink from a water bottle. There are ways you can show your kids how this is done.”
Vaccines—The more children are vaccinated, the safer schools will be
As of October, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends COVID-19 vaccination for all individuals ages 12 and older in the United States. COVID-19 vaccines currently approved or authorized by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are highly effective in preventing serious outcomes of COVID-19, including severe disease, hospitalization and death.
Currently, the only COVID-19 vaccine recommended for emergency use authorization in individuals younger than 18 years is the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine (COMIRNATY). As of mid-October, this vaccine was recommended for emergency use authorization in individuals ages 12 to 15 and received full FDA authorization for use in individuals ages 16 and older.
In early October, Pfizer and BioNTech asked the FDA to authorize their vaccine for emergency use in children ages 5 to 11 years old. Approval could come sometime between Halloween and Thanksgiving. For the latest information on vaccines available for all age groups, please visit cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/.
Pastore emphasizes that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine tested on children ages 5-11 is a lower dose than the vaccine given to adults. She says vaccines have the important benefit of reducing the severity of any COVID-19 infection in both children and adults.
“That is a really fantastic thing,” she says, especially given reports of long-term COVID-19 symptoms and rare cases of a life-threatening condition called multi-system inflammatory syndrome that can stem from severe cases.
Pastore urges parents to view COVID-19 vaccines the same way they view other health decisions they must make for their children, and to be proactive about asking their pediatrician about their questions and concerns.
“It’s important to ask your health care provider for information so that you have greater knowledge yourself and you in consultation with your doctor can make a decision that is right given your own health history and circumstances,” she says. “Simply being able to talk through these issues can reduce anxiety as well as dispel any myths or misunderstandings.”
Parents should include children in these discussions when age-appropriate, she says, and can set a good example by getting the vaccine themselves.
Risk assessment – Parents have always been doing this.
While the constant assessment of whether this playdate or that sports team is a good idea or not in the COVID era can feel exhausting, Pastore reminds parents that they’ve always been assessing risk for their children—COVID has just brought a new dimension to it.
“We can take down the anxiety by realizing this decision-making process is something we have to do anyway. These are basic skills,” she says. “If you talk to your kids about your own thought process you are modeling how to go about making those decisions.”
As COVID-19 moves from being a pandemic to an endemic disease, Pastore says parents should be ready to adjust their family behaviors accordingly as case numbers rise and fall—just as they might adjust travel plans in hazardous weather or social plans if they have a cold.
“Depending on what’s happening with the community level of spread and what is happening in your child’s school, you may need to adjust a little bit in terms of how you interact,” she says.
When assessing risk, Pastore says parents should keep in mind that one of the activities with the highest risk of COVID-19 transmission is sports. But sports also offer many other physical and mental health benefits to children. When making decisions about sports participation for your own children, Pastore recommends parents keep in mind:
- Outdoor sports pose less of a risk of transmission.
- The less contact a sport involves, the less risk it poses for disease transmission.
- Encourage children to keep a physical distance from other players when on the sidelines.
- Encourage children to wear masks when they are not actively playing their sport.
- Talk to league directors or coaches to get a sense of their own approach to COVID-19 prevention measures as you make your decisions.
For more information on COVID-19 resources in the Fredericksburg region, visit vdh.virginia.gov/Rappahannock
Stay tuned to the Fredericksburg Parent Facebook and YouTube pages in November for an interview with local health officials.