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Healthy You

A Letter About Social Distancing From Our Pediatricians

Thursday, March 19, 2020 3:40 PM

Since schools are closed, many people are looking for advice about teens and social distancing from our perspective as pediatricians, moms, and public health specialists. This is an evolving situation and current recommendations are based on the best information that we have available as of March 19, 2020. 

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First and foremost, as a community, we all need to be on the same page when it comes to rules about social contact—especially with school out. There is no point in closing schools and then allowing our kids to hang out in big groups or not take basic precautions. If we want the school to resume, sports to resume, have prom and graduation, it is best to overreact as oppose to underreact, as we are learning from Italy and New York. Once testing for the virus is more widely available, we will have even better guidance.

COVID-19 is a respiratory virus that might cause no symptoms in some people, fever and cold-like symptoms in others, and more rarely problems with breathing that could result in need of supplemental oxygen or ventilation support. The more dangerous outcomes appear to occur in older people and in people with underlying medical conditions. Until testing becomes more widely available, we don’t know how prevalent this disease is in our community, or true complication or death rates. We do know that if you test positive for another virus like influenza, there is a lower chance that you also have COVID-19.

Testing has yielded multiple positive tests and there are multiple hospitalized patients. COVID-19 is in our communities.

We DO know that COVID-19 is very contagious—more contagious than the seasonal flu. It is spread person-to-person within 6 feet of contact with each other and through respiratory droplets. We are taking these extraordinary measures to contain the virus. We want to protect our more vulnerable populations and not overwhelm our health care system. We all know people in medically vulnerable populations, they are our parents, grandparents, and even classmates.

For more detailed information please go to: www.cdc.gov

As of today, current national and local recommendations for stemming the spread of coronavirus are:

  1. No gatherings of over 10 people
  2. Restaurants are only available for drive-in or take-out with social distancing
  3. Good hand hygiene
  4. Social distancing
  5. Working from home if possible

So what does this mean for all of the students (including college) who are home and restless?
Here are suggested practices to share with your kids:

Right now, the best way to stem spread is good hand washing hygiene and social distancing. Here are simple house rules for children who are old enough to understand that social distancing means ideally staying 6 feet apart from people around you.

  1. Wash your hands when you come in the house before you eat, and of course, after using the restroom. Use good old-fashioned soap and hot water, and save hand sanitizer for when a sink is not available.
  2. Wipe down high touch surfaces such as doorknobs, keyboards, phone screens with a disinfectant.
  3. No sharing of utensils, plates, or cups.
  4. We do not recommend gatherings for remote learning.
  5. Those who live in homes with higher-risk populations such as grandparents or people with underlying health issues may not want to have any visitors at this time. This also applies to houses with health care providers; they need to take extra precautions to keep themselves healthy so they can be available to take care of others.
  6. If you want to hang out with friends, do it outside and with social distancing. Being outside is great for your mental health. Playing sports can happen with social distancing; soccer, golf, baseball, throwing a lacrosse ball and tennis are probably fine with good hand hygiene (wash hands or use hand sanitizer before the start of play and after). Walking, biking and skateboarding with friends are safe (wear your helmet!). Avoid games with close contact such as tackle football or wrestling. For basketball, we suggest playing a game like horse or knock out and having people bring their own balls.
  7. Avoid gatherings where you can’t practice social distance or current guidelines; this includes cars and stores. Sadly, we need to hold off on parties or sleep-overs. If anyone in your home tests positive, regardless of severity of symptoms, the entire household will be under quarantine. Who wants that?
  8. If you get symptoms or feel ill, stay home and away from others for at least a couple of days after symptoms resolve. Testing availability and guidelines are changing rapidly, so if you are sick and have any questions, please call your health care provider or check for updates on cdc.gov.
  9. Take care of your mental health. You still need to sleep 8-10 hours a night, eat three nutritious meals a day, turn off screens, get outside and move an hour a day or more, use tools to decrease stress such as meditating, petting a dog, or listening to music, and connecting with your support people. If you are seeing a mental health provider, try to continue visits, even if by phone or video chat.

We can promote the needed precautions without panic. Emphasize to your children that while no one is at zero risk for being sick from COVID-19 virus, their age cohort is low risk for getting very sick. Reassure them that we will all get through this, together, and that your job is to help keep them safe.

Teens wonder, “why should I not see my friends when it is unlikely that this disease will make me sick?” The idea of personal sacrifice to ensure that everyone stays healthy may be a new concept for them to consider. They can understand and can be motivated by the fact that their individual actions have the power to save lives.

Bottom line: if we all stick together and follow the same simple rules like good hand hygiene and social distancing, then we can stem the spread of COVID-19 quickly and get back doing to the things we love, like sports, travel, gatherings, and even school.

In Good Health,

Lynn Gettleman Chehab, MD, MPH
Pediatrician, NorthShore University HealthSystem
Chicagoland Children’s Health Alliance

Aimee S. Crow, MD
Pediatrician, NorthShore University HealthSystem
Chicagoland Children’s Health Alliance