Cases of COVID-19 were spiking dramatically in Arizona when we checked in with pediatrician Sarah Wiersma, M.D., who has seen the troubling trend play out at her practice, North Scottsdale Pediatrics. Wiersma serves on the Board of Directors for the Arizona Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and is the Vice Chair of Pediatrics for HonorHealth. As a mom, she also understands firsthand the stresses of parenting and working during this summer of COVID-19.
Have you treated many children for COVID-19? Our practice had only seen a few children diagnosed with the new coronavirus during the spring, but we have seen an increasing number of teens and school-age children testing positive since the rise in cases statewide in June. We continue to encourage our community to practice social distancing measures to prevent continued spread in our area.
There’s been some resistance locally to wearing face coverings in public — and mayors across Arizona recently had to mandate that people wear them. What’s the case for face masks as a tool to lower the transmission of COVID-19? Some recent studies have shown that masking when around others not from your household can significantly slow the spread of the coronavirus. A surgical mask or cloth face covering provides some protection to the mask wearer, but much greater protection to their close contacts. Since the coronavirus is very contagious in the days preceding symptoms, it’s important to wear a mask even when feeling well. Wearing a mask out of the house is a way to show you care for the most vulnerable in our community.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, childhood vaccination rates have been decreasing nationally. Hasn’t COVID-19 made people better understand the importance of vaccines? In Arizona, we are seeing a similar decrease in vaccination rates and office visits as noted nationally. In a recent survey of Arizona pediatricians, there has been about a 70-80 percent decrease in patient volume since March as parents put off care for fear of COVID-19 exposure. With the decreased number of children immunized, I worry about an outbreak of a vaccine-preventable illness such as measles or pertussis (whooping cough). I hope families can see how essential vaccines are to protecting our children from serious illness by watching the course of the coronavirus pandemic and vaccine development efforts. Optimistically, this represents only a temporary delay in vaccinations as we get kids caught up on well care this summer.
How do you reassure parents that it’s OK (and important) to bring kids in for vaccinations and annual check-ups right now? The decrease in vaccinations is likely due to many families avoiding medical offices due to the pandemic. Many parents are also not calling because they think we are busy — but we are not too busy to take care of your kids! Check with your pediatrician about what practices they’ve implemented to keep your family safe when coming to the office. Many offices are implementing telemedicine visits, separate locations or times for sick and well care, and increased cleaning and hygiene practices.
Also, everyone over the age of 2 should wear a mask when out in public, including attending medical appointments. We’re encouraging parents not to put off preventative healthcare for their kids. Call your pediatrician! The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently launched an educational campaign #CallYourPediatrician to highlight the importance of well care even during a pandemic and for parents to contact their pediatrician with any concerns. Routine well care not only includes vaccines but important screenings such as growth, development, and mental health concerns.
While coronavirus seems to have impacted adults much more than children in terms of severity of sickness and fatalities, there is news about Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in kids linked to COVID-19. Have you seen any cases of this in your practice or locally? With COVID-19 such a deadly illness for adults, globally young children have done remarkably well. Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) is a seemingly rare condition associated with the coronavirus affecting mostly school-age children and teens. I haven’t heard of cases thus far in Arizona, but the trend seems to be that hospitals see cases about a month after a location is hard hit by coronavirus infections. Parents should know that the condition is considered very rare, and that most children have done well after hospitalization. There is still much we need to learn about MIS-C and the long-term effects of the coronavirus in kids. If you have any concerns about your child’s health, call your pediatrician! We’re here for our families and happy to answer any questions you may have.
What are your recommendations to parents about keeping kids safe while we come out of quarantine — and while there’s still no cure or available vaccine for COVID-19? Staying home as much as possible and physical distancing from those not in your immediate household are still the safest options. However, for parents returning to work, sending kids to daycare and camps may be the only childcare options available. The CDC has helpful guidance regarding social distancing for daycares and camps, and I’d encourage parents to check what policies their childcare provider has enacted.
How have you been holding up through all of this? I am a mom to a very active 1-year-old son, so it’s been a bit chaotic at my house! Usually my parents provide our childcare when my husband and I are working. We decided to isolate from my parents due to their age and my potential exposure at work. Like many families right now, we’re juggling my husband working from home while watching our son. My advice to families finding themselves in similar situations is to give yourself grace. The silver lining to social distancing is the found family time. Try to take some time each day to connect as a family, but don’t worry if your kid’s days are not full of social media-worthy activities.
Do you have concerns about kids going back to school campuses and regular routines for the new school year, or do you think we’ll be ready? So much can change between now and the fall. School districts and universities have been diligently planning now with the information we currently have. Hopefully classes can resume safely with some level of social distancing to keep kids safe but connected. However, likely things won’t be fully back to normal until after a vaccine is widely available.
What would you like to add? I have been getting questions from parents about the safety of a potential coronavirus vaccine in kids. Currently the vaccine candidates are still undergoing early-phase trials enrolling adults. As a pediatrician, I would want to ensure there are rigorous trials to assess safety and efficacy before we give a new vaccine to children. The coronavirus vaccine development has been going at an unprecedented speed, but this shouldn’t compromise vaccine safety. The process has been shortened due to trials being run simultaneously or in quicker succession than normal. We don’t have information on the ultimate vaccine candidate as of now, but as information becomes available your child’s pediatrician will be your best resource.