CHILDREN about to return to school should wash their hands often, wear a mask without fear of health risks and return to a calm home after class ends.
That was some of the advice given by doctors during a virtual meeting Tuesday night about returning to school amid the pandemic’s fourth wave.
Dr. Jared Bullard, a pediatric infectious disease specialist, said about 15,000 children in Manitoba have been infected with COVID-19 during the pandemic. One in 200 of those have ended up in hospital, he said, and about one in 1,000 end up with multisystem inflammatory syndrome, a condition that can cause inflammation in various body parts and organs. He said this syndrome causes most instances of children in intensive care, but that recovery rates are very high. About one in 2,000 children who have contracted the virus have ended up in intensive care, said Bullard.
Potential long-term effects in children who contract COVID-19 are being studied, said Dr. Ruth Grimes, president of the Canadian Paediatric Society.
"The paediatric surveillance program is actually collecting data in real time to address those questions: what is the incidence of long-COVID symptoms in children, what potentially could be cardiac or renal or vascular long-term complications — and we just simply don’t know those answers," said Grimes.
Bullard said to ensure children are washing their hands often, particularly after contact with "touch points," such as door knobs. He also said to use masks with layers, which children should change when they get dirty or wet.
In the midst of a pandemic, he said some children are going to contract the virus.
"And it’s not that they did anything wrong, and it’s not that the school did anything wrong... it’s important not to label and make people feel bad about that," he said.
Grimes later addressed concerns that masks inhibit lung development in children.
"Concerns about lung development, oxygen levels, carbon dioxide levels, immune system development in the use of masks are all really myths. There is no evidence to support any concerns about masks," she said, then explaining that studies have been conducted to measure masks impacts on oxygen and carbon dioxide levels.
"I can wholeheartedly reassure parents that there’s no health risk to children wearing masks on a continuous basis through their day at school."
In regards to mental health impacts, child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Andrew Hall said the clearest predictor of a whole range of mental health issues, such depression and anxiety, was social isolation. He said that reinforces the need to be safe returning to school, to avoid the necessity for remote learning.
Aside from that, he urged parents to model calm behaviour.
"Kids will learn without being taught," he said. "They’ll just pick up, so being attuned to your own mental health and stress levels is incredibly important."
He advised doing whatever you can to reduce anxiety in your household, including avoiding excessive information. He suggested getting news only once a day from a credible source, and turning off the television to ease the flow of information.
Dr. Marni Hanna, president of the Manitoba Pediatric Society, said concerns that wearing masks around infants in preschools affects their linguistic development by hiding speakers’ lips are understandable, but unfounded.
"There are no known studies that show significant effects on speech development," she said, adding visually impaired children learn language as fast as children with sight.
For immunocompromised children, the safety of returning to school will have to be taken on a case-by-case basis, said Dr. Ashley Chopek, a pediatric oncology specialist.
Chopek said children going through chemotherapy will have to be particularly careful, but after treatment the risk should be significantly lower.
"If a child has completed their treatment for cancer, then they are safe and they should be returning to school," she said.
The doctors urged all eligible people to get vaccinated to help prevent transmission.