A nationwide increase in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations fueled by the highly contagious delta variant, which now accounts for the vast majority of infections, worries many of the most vulnerable as restrictions are lifted.
Among them, parents of young children who are not yet eligible for coronavirus vaccines are wondering what the delta variant means for their families.
The delta variant now accounts for more than 83% of Covid-19 cases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Tuesday. Just a month ago, the variant accounted for just over 30% of new cases.
And on Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics, or AAP, recommended that all children over 2 wear masks when they return to school this year, regardless of their immunization status. This contradicted previous CDC guidelines that fully vaccinated students did not need masks. Covid-19 vaccines have only been authorized for people aged 12 and over in the United States
As parents prepare for camp, vacation, and the upcoming school year, families worry about the safety of their summer or fall plans for their children.
Here’s what the top pediatricians have to say about what families should know about the Delta variant and kids.
What steps can I take to protect my family?
Authorization for emergency use of vaccines for children may not arrive until midwinter, a Food and Drug Administration official recently said.
Dr Jim Versalovic, chief pathologist and acting chief pediatrician at Texas Children’s Hospital, said, “This variant is spreading like wildfire. This means that we have to be very careful among those who are not vaccinated and partially vaccinated. . We are very concerned about children under 12 who do not have access to the vaccine at this time. “
Versalovic said doctors have seen a “very dramatic change” over the past two to three weeks, with the delta now “by far the most dominant variant” in children.
Dr Jennifer Lighter, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at NYU Langone Health, said the delta variant, while “certainly more contagious,” does not appear to be more dangerous to children than the other variants. As of Thursday, more than 4 million children had been diagnosed with Covid-19, or about 14.2% of all cases, according to the AAP. Versalovic also said: “We have no strong evidence that the severity of the disease in children and adolescents is different with the delta variant.”
Dr Michael Green, pediatric infectious disease specialist and medical director of infection prevention at UPMC Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, said getting the vaccine is “the most important thing parents can do to protect their children.” against coronavirus in general, including the delta variant. Parents should also consider encouraging other family members to get the vaccine, he said.
Versalovic said getting the vaccine was “the No.1 tool to prevent and mitigate the spread and transmission of Covid, including the delta variant.”
“It’s a race between vaccines and variants,” he said.
What are the school experts saying in person?
The AAP, which said it was important for children to return to in-person learning this year, recommended that school staff also wear masks.
The CDC and AAP recommend in-person learning although they differ from mask guidance. Some states have banned districts from requiring masks in schools. Local governments and school districts have the power to make their own decisions about mask wear, even for unvaccinated students.
Versalovic said that while wearing masks was a politically charged debate, “it is certainly important to consider the importance of masks in schools, in addition to disinfection.”
Parents of children aged 12 and older should also consider the length of time between two doses of vaccines, he said.
“Now is the time to consider vaccinating a child before the next school year,” he said.
Green said parents of children with underlying health conditions or in states with low immunization rates that restrict masks in schools might have much more difficult decisions.
“It’s really, I think, a tough decision for parents to make,” said Green, who cares for children who have had organ transplants.
“When school districts choose to do it their own way and not impose masking at all, I suspect we can learn that it’s not a good thing to do,” he said, adding: “The fear is that there is more spread in schools than what we have seen before.”
Should my child be going to camp this summer?
Medical experts said it was important for parents to be informed if summer camps followed public health guidelines and what safety measures they were taking to protect children.
Lighter said parents should try to find out about a camp’s Covid-19 protocols, such as screening or symptom testing he does, what his policies are on masks for indoor and outdoor activities, and vaccination policies for its staff. Camps where staff members are vaccinated and those that have policies like encouraging masks indoors will reduce the risk to unvaccinated children, she said.
The AAP also said campers should wear masks during indoor activities.
Versalovic said parents should work closely with their camps and ask key questions about protocols in place and immunization statuses of counselors and other staff who will be with their children.
“I am not here to discourage camp activities. We know that it can be very important for the development of children,” he said. “I think we just need to work with the camps to make sure that parents are fully aware of the practices that these camps put in place to keep their children safe, and that obviously includes masking, distancing and disinfection in their facilities. “
Should we take this flight to visit Grandma?
Families planning a long-awaited vacation or trip to visit relatives may wonder what delta means for long-distance travel plans.
Dr Richard Malley, a pediatrician specializing in infectious diseases at Boston Children’s Hospital, said that until now, air travel by itself had not been a major source of transmission of the coronavirus. According to the CDC, masks are mandatory on planes and other major public transportation, when traveling within or outside the United States, and within transportation hubs, such as airports and train stations.
Malley said wearing masks in flight reduces the risk of transmission, so while the form of travel itself may not be the major risk, the destination could be.
“So if you go to a place that has a ton of viruses, that might not be the best place to take your child,” he said.
He said weighing the risk of traveling depends on the situation. If the trip involves other fully vaccinated adults with minimal exposure, the risk is reduced, he said. But if the trip involves the children being exposed to other unvaccinated adults, especially those from vulnerable populations, or to crowded indoor environments where people may not have masks on, “the equation is not in favor of this trip, ”he said.
And the dates of play?
With the lifting of pandemic restrictions, families have been looking for ways to safely resume their social lives. This includes how to set up play dates for their unvaccinated children, even though parents may not know the vaccination statuses of others around them.
Malley said it was reasonable to ask parents in advance about the immunization status of people in the household, as well as whether anyone in the house is showing symptoms, is reasonable.
“I think parents and individuals should feel more comfortable asking these types of questions,” he said.
Versalovic said other important factors are making sure play dates are outdoors when possible and keeping them in low-traffic environments and in smaller playgroups where parents can also. keep their distance.
The risk would increase “dramatically,” he said, if play dates were held in indoor locations crowded with other unvaccinated people, especially around potentially vulnerable unvaccinated adults or people with medical conditions. underlying medical conditions.
Malley said that due to the threat of the pandemic, parents need to be “more in tune with what they are doing with their children” and “what are the best activities, what are the safest activities which are also fun and educational or physically rewarding. “
He said there was a good chance that “we’re going to be dealing with this for quite a long time,” although not at the same intensity as when the pandemic started last year.
“It’s here to stay, and if we figure out how to live in a safe and at the same time not too restrictive way with our children, we will limit the collateral damage the children have suffered,” he said.