COVID-19 Q&A: Pediatrician advice on kids & coronavirus

Dr. Joseph Segeleon says to focus on what we know to minimize kids' anxiety

A Sanford Health pediatrician and a Sanford Health News host sit down at a round wooden table in a conference room.

While there have been children hospitalized after testing positive for COVID-19, the case numbers at Sanford Health are low, according to Joseph Segeleon, M.D., a pediatric specialist.

Dr. Segeleon sat down with Sanford Health News for a Facebook Live Q&A to address commonly asked questions about the coronavirus and children, back-to-school, the upcoming flu season and more. He is a critical care pediatrician serving as vice president and medical officer of Sanford Children’s Hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Watch: Facebook Live Q&A with Dr. Joseph Segeleon, Sept. 22 

What we’ve learned about kids and COVID-19

Most children do quite well with this virus, according to Dr. Segeleon.

“Children have a mild illness and many children are asymptomatic,” he said.

Common symptoms among children include fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, headache, as well as gastrointestinal issues like vomiting and diarrhea.

Learn more: How does the coronavirus affect children?

“The symptoms that really point us to COVID-19 are the loss of taste and loss of smell,” Dr. Segeleon said. “But just like with influenza, there is a population that is more vulnerable to COVID-19 which include children under 1 year old and those who are living with a chronic medical condition.”

Back-to-school safety, positive cases

While schools have done a lot of work to bring kids back safely, Dr. Segeleon says it’s challenging because a large population of children will be asymptomatic or show few symptoms.

“In partnering with the local and state departments of health, we know they’re doing the best they can to keep everyone safe.”

At least one positive case in a school is inevitable, leaders say. Even with that uncertainty, parents are encouraged to have a plan in place.

“Kids, just like adults, don’t like uncertainty,” Dr. Segeleon said. “If they’re old enough, develop a plan for if and when a child is sent home to quarantine.”

If a child gets sick during the school year with any number of symptoms, use common sense and communicate with your child’s provider.

“There will be more phone calls with providers to explain symptoms,” Dr. Segeleon said. “But remember: exposure. If they were exposed to someone with a confirmed test, it’s a little bit different.

“Symptoms will require more children to be seen, at least by phone, and some children will end up getting tested for COVID-19. There will also be children that get colds, strep throat and other illnesses that are more serious, so we have to make sure we’re attentive to those and a triage system is set up.”

Flu season in a pandemic year

“This year, more than ever, get your flu shot,” he said. “Let’s have a mild flu season so when we have symptoms, we can say, ‘We’re not seeing flu in the community. Let’s not worry about that.'”

The flu’s onset is typically more sudden than COVID-19, which can help differentiate the two. But many of the symptoms overlap.

“If you were reluctant or hesitant to get a flu shot in the past, let this year be the year you get one — not just the child but everyone in the family. Let’s try and increase our immunity so the flu is not as significant in our community.”

Coping with anxiety

When it comes to anxiety over the pandemic, getting a flu shot, cases at school or anything else, kids pick up on it.

“Let’s be resilient. Let’s lean on each other and be together as families and look out for each other,” he said. “Kids are resilient and they’re adaptable. But kids need to be kids, so we need to be creative and innovate on how we interact with each other.”

Dr. Segeleon suggests maintaining a positive attitude, modeling good behavior and establishing a routine. Talk to your kids at a level that’s appropriate for their age and development, and monitor their screen time, news and social media consumption.

“This is an unprecedented time, and uncertainty breeds anxiety in everyone, myself included,” he said. “The most important thing that gives people assurance is concentrate on what we know about how this affects children.

“We will get through this and we’ll get through it together.”

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Posted In Back to School, Children's, Coronavirus, Expert Q&A, Flu, Parenting, Specialty Care

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