When it comes to COVID-19, it can be confusing to figure out if the information you’re hearing is actually based in facts. With tons of stories, anecdotes and opinions circulating on social media, it’s easy to jump to conclusions and get caught up in a COVID-induced stress fest. Raise your hand if you’ve been there!
In order to sort out the important info from the rest of what’s out there, we spoke with an infectious disease expert who specializes in working with children.
Cecilia Di Pentima, MD, Director of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Division for Atlantic Health System, says there are three places where parents can always find accurate, evidence-based information that applies to children.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics has been updating information for pediatricians, educators and parents as far as what the conditions are for kids to return safely to school,” says Dr. Di Pentima. “The idea is to mitigate the risk, not eliminate it.”
“The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has published extensive information as far as guidance to schools and childcare and information on how to make these decisions,” says Di Pentima. “They have a great frequent questions and answers section as well as information for colleges and universities.”
“The New Jersey Department of Health website had info for schools early on in the pandemic,” says Di Pentima.
“It’s important to refer to these websites when trying to understand what it means to reopen schools safely, and what to do when your kid gets sick,” she says.
Schools Reopening Safely
The question on every parent’s mind right now is how safe is it for schools to reopen. Dr. Di Pentima says that when seeking out information, parents should keep in mind that it’s a very fluid situation – what may be applicable today may not be the case tomorrow.
“Unfortunately, not all school systems are created equal, not all have the same resources or physical space to guarantee social distancing,” she says.
“The question is: What is the rate of positivity in that community, what are the number of new cases?” She says that the data shows that kids are definitely far less likely to become infected with COVID-19, be hospitalized or die from it.
“The mortality rate is less than 0.1 percent for kids,” she says. “That’s why it’s so important when kids go back to school to take precautions to mitigate the risk.” She says it’s important to think about who is in the household with the child, especially if there are grandparents living at home, and to consider the risk to parents and teachers.
While some still debate whether mask-wearing really has an impact on COVID-19 transmissionm Dr. Di Pentima says the answer is a resounding yes.
“I think it’s important to understand kids do need to go to school to learn and socialize,” she says. “But it is important to keep social distancing, wearing masks and hand washing. As a society, we need to prioritize – what are the risks we absolutely need to take? Kids need to go back to school but we have to do it safely.”
When it comes to allowing your kids to get together with friends, Dr. Di Pentima suggests reviewing the AAP, CDC and NJ Department of Health websites in order to stay informed.
“That way, you can make your own assessment versus listening to what’s on social media or on the news, which can be confusing,” she says.
“At the ends of the day, it’s an individual decision,” she says. “Each family knows who their closest friends are and how they can socialize with a limited number of friends who are also following the same practices as them.”
Seeking Medical Care
What’s in the news or buzzing around the Internet should not keep parents from taking their children to necessary well visits and immunizations, says Dr. Di Pentima. She also stresses that it’s important to get the flu vaccine and not to panic at the first sign of cold symptoms.
She says that we can expect to see schools being more cautious and sending home sick children, and that office visits may actually increase because of this.
“It may be wise to have your child tested because sometimes there are treatments,” she says. She says there are sensitive tests that can identify seven different families of viruses, though lab tests may need to be sent out if the pediatrician does not have them available.
Dr. Di Pentima says that overall, it’s about understanding that while there are risks of contracting COVID-19, we can significantly decrease that risk with our actions. By having a sense of personal responsibility, and by separating the anxiety-fueled missives from the facts, we can all start the school year knowing we’re doing our best to keep our kids safe.
Dr. Cecilia Di Pentima is the director of pediatric infectious disease at Morristown Medical Center and Professor of Pediatrics at Thomas Jefferson University. Double-board-certified in Pediatrics and Pediatric Infectious Diseases, Dr. Di Pentima is a specialist in treating children with an array of complex conditions — pneumonia, viral infections, meningitis, Lyme disease, congenital and neonatal infections, bone and joint infections, and antibiotic-resistant infections. She has more than 20 years of experience working closely with her young patients’, pediatricians, neonatologists, intensive care unit doctors, and other specialists to provide comprehensive, high-quality care.
As a pediatric specialist, Dr. Di Pentima understands the unique symptoms, signs, and treatments for children with infectious diseases. She works closely with parents as part of the care team and is dedicated to educating patients and their families on prevention strategies to help them make informed decisions regarding their care.
Dr. Di Pentima completed medical school at National University at Rosario, School of Medical Sciences, Rosario, Argentina. She completed her Master’s in Public Health at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, and a pediatric residency and pediatric infectious disease fellowship at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, Texas. Dr. Di Pentima is a member of the Atlantic Medical Group and a participating provider of the Atlantic Accountable Care Organization.