There is More to Health Than Avoiding COVID-19

by Dr. Michelle Cretella, Executive Director

It is time to remind ourselves that there is way more to health than avoiding COVID-19. Our need for each other and our patients’ need for general pediatric care and their risk of acquiring routine pediatric illnesses did not go into lockdown with us. Now that we are on the other side of the COVID-19 curve, it is time to take a deep breath and take stock of unintended consequences of our unprecedented pandemic control measures. 

The CDC recently reported significant declines in routine pediatric vaccine administration presumably due to concern for exposing children to COVID-19 during well child visits.

As social distancing measurements are relaxed, these unvaccinated children will be more vulnerable to vaccine preventable illnesses like measles, mumps, diphtheria, tetanus and others. Similarly, a soon to be published report reviews a series of cases of children who nearly died from new onset Type 1 Diabetes. Why? In some cases, parents put off seeking care for their child’s symptoms due to fear of exposure to COVID-19. In other cases, physicians were so focused on ruling out COVID-19 they overlooked all of the obvious diabetic symptoms in front of them. 

Many of us pediatricians are also deeply concerned about the mental health consequences of ongoing COVID-19 containment measures. Not only are youth having anxiety precipitated by a constant barrage of COVID-19 doom, but they have also been imprisoned within the four walls of their homes. Although many intact families report that distance learning and lockdowns have afforded them more quality time together, families with two working parents, single parent families, and families of children with special needs and/or mental illness, report the opposite. Some youth, for example, have become so depressed they refuse to get out of bed, shower or eat for days.

Nothing and no one can replace parents and family relationships. However, the unprecedented long term closure of schools has been disruptive and destabilizing for many youth who thrive on routine and socialization. For children already dealing with mental illness and/or special education needs, school closures have meant lack of access to services they received from school staff including but not limited to counselors, psychologists, special education teachers and speech and occupational therapists. While remote interaction is better than no contact at all, it is not as effective as an in person encounter. 

Human beings are hardwired to connect.

People, especially children, need face to face warmth and human touch. While I do not believe there is any one size fits all solution to reopening schools, it’s at least time for families and friends to get back to common sense living while we are still alive. Yes, we should stay home and use masks if we are ill; cough and sneeze into our elbows; continue with deep cleaning, and wash hands with soap and water frequently, but let us also feel free to play outside in the sunshine and to hug our kids, family and friends daily.