Except for an occasional walk around the neighborhood and a couple of car trips to pick up groceries (“curbside” only), I, like most readers of The PediaBlog, haven’t left my house in more than seven weeks. It’s more than an abundance of caution that keeps me in my home. In fact, it’s a matter of being real: my age and health history put me at a statistically higher risk of getting severely ill if I contract the novel coronavirus, and dying from it.
In the past seven weeks, most of us have seen our activities come to a grinding halt. For most of us not deemed “essential,” work is being done virtually or not at all. Remote learning has replaced the traditional classroom. The economy has tanked and toilet paper is still in short supply.
It is estimated that more than 60,000 Americans have died during this brutal pandemic, and we’re really just at the beginning of it. WHO declared that COVID-19 was a global pandemic on March 13 — how quickly time goes. Mortality numbers may be much higher because so many of the dead either had false negative tests or were never tested at all, even for a post-mortem.
Of course, the most important factor influencing the risk of becoming infected is contact with infectious individuals, more specifically their respiratory secretions. With most of us hunkered down now for more than a month, it still shouldn’t be surprising that new cases still arise. Most people who are symptomatic and test positive for COVID-19 now are those who continue to interact with others away from home — because of work (our heroes in hospitals and clinics, in firehouses and police stations, on farms and in grocery stores, driving trucks, buses, trains, and airplanes, and others doing essential work) or out of carelessness. But while the workforce of mostly 19-60 year-olds is vulnerable to getting sick and being hospitalized, it is older people who are dying in such huge numbers. 60 and up is a risk for sure, but 70 years old and higher is an even bigger risk. And if you are older than 80 years old, statistics demand that you not under any circumstance encounter novel coronavirus.
Living with a chronic medical condition increases the risk even more. Danny Hakim lists the top 10 comorbidities associated with novel coronavirus infection in New York — the state with the highest number of positive cases and deaths from COVID-19 in the nation:
The top Covid-19 comorbidities listed by New York, in order, are hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, coronary artery disease, dementia and atrial fibrillation, a heart condition. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, another respiratory ailment, but one with an older demographic than asthma, ranks seventh. Renal disease, cancer and congestive heart failure round out the list.
Many older folks live with one or more chronic medical problems, but younger people with chronic diagnoses also suffer. For reasons that are still not entirely clear to pediatric health experts, children appear to be spared from serious symptoms and fatal complications from this disease. Healthy kids who get COVID-19 seem to get mild symptoms, or no symptoms at all. In fact, very few children and teenagers have died from COVID-19 in the 187 countries and regions that have been impacted by the pandemic.
For this reason, pediatricians are hopeful to begin seeing more of our patients in the office again, especially to ensure their immunizations proceed as scheduled. American Academy of Pediatrics president Dr. Sally Goza describes what she and her colleagues have all been feeling:
“People are scared to come in,” Dr. Sally Goza, president of the AAP, tells NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly on All Things Considered. “I do a lot of cajoling over the phone to get people to come in for their visits.”
From doing extra sanitizing of each treatment room between patients to setting up drive-through clinics for vaccinations, pediatricians across the U.S. are going the extra mile to assuage fears.
“We are trying to reassure parents that we are doing everything we can to make our offices safe so that they feel comfortable to bring these babies in and these young children in to get their vaccines,” says Goza, who practices medicine outside Atlanta.
Novel coronavirus hasn’t squeezed out other dangerous pathogens known to make children sick, says Maureen Pao:
To prevent outbreaks of serious diseases that pose an even greater threat to children than COVID-19, it’s imperative that the kids not skip their usual shots, Goza says.
Measles is one big worry. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 1,282 individual cases of measles confirmed in 31 states last year — which broke the nation’s 25-year-old record for most cases. Of those cases, most of which occurred among people who hadn’t been vaccinated, 128 were hospitalized and 61 developed serious complications, including pneumonia and encephalitis. And that’s not the only outbreak threatening.
“We could have a whooping cough, and we could have young children still get meningitis if they don’t get the vaccines to protect against meningitis,” says Goza. “It is critical for those children to come in and get their vaccines as close to as on time as they can. Delaying can cause major problems.”
We certainly don’t want any more problems than we already have, right?
AHN Pediatrics — Pediatric Alliance has begun the careful process of welcoming our patients 5 years old and under back into our offices for routine checkups and immunizations. Read our policies and procedures as we update them on our website here.