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Managing Your Children’s Health Care During COVID-19

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Hat’s off to you, parents! You’re working from home while keeping a responsible distance—at least six feet—from everyone except the immediate family. You’re cooking every meal. You’re even starting to understand the e-learning thing and how to keep your kids occupied when they can’t go to school and spend time with friends.

It’s a lot.

And while you’ve learned quite a bit in the last few weeks, as we work to stop COVID-19, you probably have questions about your family’s health. Maybe it’s what to expect if your kids have an upcoming doctor’s appointment? Or what will you do if your family gets the virus?

We turned to Dr. Paul Halter, of Hancock Pediatrics, to answer those questions and a few more.

“Parents are just trying to keep their families healthy right now and they are frightened,” he said.

Q: What advice do you give parents about their children’s doctors’ appointments?

A: We are still seeing patients but it is limited because we are following the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Academy of Pediatrics, the Indiana State Department of Health and community leaders, which is to stay home and abide by the lockdown.

But we are continuing to encourage well child exams for newborns and infants up to and including 12 months. They still need to be seen to make sure they hit their developmental milestones and get their immunizations in a timely fashion. But older children, toddler age and up, should postpone their visits until the major peak of COVID-19 passes.

Q: What should parents do if their child gets sick?

A: Call their pediatrician’s office. In our office, we’re doing a lot of telehealth visits with video now. We’re able to run these just like we would a normal visit with the exception that we obviously can’t swab throats and look in ears. But we are still scheduling office appointments for infants and babies who aren’t able to talk.

Q: How are you handling office visits?

A: We’re doing things differently to maintain the best possible social distancing practices:

  • Exam rooms are separated—we have rooms where we see healthy patients and rooms for kids who are sick. And we see healthy children exclusively in the mornings.
  • Waiting rooms are closed. Patients stay in their cars until it’s time for their appointments. (There are signs outside the building with instructions for calling the office when patients arrive.)
  • One parent or guardian can accompany each child into the office (unless it’s a newborn’s first visit. Then, both parents can attend).
  • Hancock Health’s triage clinic is seeing children who are being examined for COVID-19 and other, more serious, illnesses.

Q: What should parents do if they suspect their child has COVID-19?

A: Call our office first (317-467-4500) and if we’re suspicious, we will refer them to either our 24/7 coronavirus hotline at 317-325-COVD(2683) or the triage clinic.

Q: What should parents do if their child contracts the virus?

A: Obviously, a child has to be handled differently than an adult. A child can’t self-isolate the same way an adult can, but we still suggest that parents and other family members try to maintain healthy boundaries.

Here are some guidelines:

  • Stay in contact with your medical provider and use the 24/7 coronavirus hotline for questions—317-325-COVD(2683).
  • Separate the sick child from the rest of the family by caring for the child in a separate room. Have the sick child use a separate bathroom, if possible.
  • Anyone in the same room with the sick child should wear a mask. And all family members should wash their hands often—with soap and water and for 20 seconds each time—and use hand sanitizer.
  • Manage the fever and other symptoms with acetaminophen (Tylenol) and be sure the child is resting and drinking a lot of fluids. Do not use ibuprofen, as it can make the symptoms worse.
  • If your child’s fever spikes or there are significant respiratory problems, take the child to the emergency room.

Q: If a child contracts COVID-19, will other members of the family also get it?

A: Unfortunately, if one family member gets it, usually the rest of the family will also contract it. That means the entire family should isolate inside the home and only leave for medical care and follow the CDC’s other guidelines.

And keep in the mind that it seems to be a much more severe disease in the adult population than it is in children.

Q: What can we reasonably ask children to do to help stop COVID-19?

A: Practice good hygiene.

That includes:

  • Washing hands with soap and water (for 20 seconds each time) frequently and especially when they cough or sneeze, before they eat, and after they go to the bathroom.
  • Coughing and sneezing into their elbows.
  • Be mindful about their personal space and continue to observe social distance guidelines, keeping six feet away from anyone who isn’t in their immediate family.
  • Making sure to maintain social distancing guidelines even when they are outside playing, walking, or bike riding.

Q: How do parents explain these lifestyle changes?

A: That’s a tough one because kids are all at very different developmental stages. Certainly, this can be spoken more plainly to a teenager or school-aged child than a toddler. The best advice I can give is for parents to model this behavior—it’s the best way you’re going to get this message to children.

But children are really missing out on being able to socialize and I see that across the board in all ages. Children are angry about what’s happened to their school year, their activities, and their sports and it is unfortunate. I think it’s OK to acknowledge to a child that their feelings are valid—their anger and their fear, it’s OK to feel that way.

Q: What should parents do if their child becomes withdrawn or exhibits extreme emotions?

A: If those behaviors continue for a period of time, they might want to consider seeking professional help. We have a social worker in our office—Christy Harpold—and she has been a tremendous asset for our group when it comes to addressing mental health needs in children right now. She is available for telephone consultations and video appointments. (To learn more, call Hancock Pediatrics at 317-467-4500.)

Q: We’re all in this together.

A: We know that some of the most concerning issues are how to protect children and their health at this unprecedented time. Following the guidelines above is a great start. If you have additional questions visit our coronavirus site at hancockregionalhospital.org/coronavirus and, remember, we’ll all get through this together!

Hancock Pediatrics is located at 300 E. Boyd Avenue, Suite 250, in Greenfield. Contact Dr. Halter at 317-467-4500.

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