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Dr. Theresa Nguyen WBAL COVID-19 Townhall - March 23, 2021

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Laura Zabriskie

March 23, 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging on everyone, but some of the most profound effects are being seen in school-aged children. Theresa Nguyen, MD, Assistant Chairman of Pediatrics at GBMC, joined the WBAL Coronavirus Townhall to answer questions and offer advice to parents. She discussed distinguishing allergies from COVID-19, navigating school re-openings, and ensuring children’s mental wellbeing.

For children with a history of allergies, parents shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that their child has COVID-19. “I recommend starting allergy medications on March 1,” said Dr. Nguyen. “If symptoms improve, the cause is most likely the allergies.” Symptoms such as watery eyes and runny nose are also indicators that allergies are the cause – these are not associated with COVID-19. If the child develops a fever, that is the point when COVID-19 needs to be considered as a possibility. Dr. Nguyen suggested that parents regularly communicate with their child’s pediatrician and ask questions if they are unsure what to do.

The conversation then shifted to school re-openings. “Sending kids back to school is safe,” she expressed. “The CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics would not have given that recommendation if we didn’t know that for sure.” She emphasized that this statement was only true with proper precautions in place. Many private schools have been following a hybrid learning model for months without major outbreaks, but this was done with masking and proper ventilation. With teachers now getting vaccinated, the risk of infection decreases even more.

The recent announcement by the CDC that it is safe for students to be three feet apart – rather than six – has caused a lot of confusion among parents and the public. Dr. Nguyen explained that this change was prompted by a study done in Massachusetts. The state monitored 250 school districts and found no measurable difference between three and six feet of distancing for school-aged students with universal masking and other precautions. No major outbreaks occurred throughout the duration of the study. The recommendation for adults to remain six feet apart remains in place.

Pediatricians are concerned about the rising obesity in children due to their sharp decrease in activity. On average, Dr. Nguyen is seeing a one- to two-pound weight gain in her patients per month since the start of the pandemic. This is significant on children’s small frames. She urged parents to watch their child’s weight and do whatever they can to maintain physical activity. Obesity causes significant health problems in both children and adults, and it is critical to keep children at a healthy weight.

When asked about playing outside, Dr. Nguyen explained that children can play normally as long as they are masked. “The social and physical activity components of play are critical to children’s health,” she said. “There has been a significant increase in mental and emotional health issues in children during this last year. Any level of socialization where they’re actively engaged with other children is fantastic.”

For parents who are concerned about their child’s mental health, Dr. Nguyen suggested watching for symptoms such as:
  • Becoming withdrawn
  • Altered eating and/or sleeping
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Unusual or sudden changes in behavior
  • Trouble focusing and/or maintaining a schedule
She advised that parents watch for prolonged changes in behavior. “Everyone has bad days,” she expressed, “but parents know their children best. If you’re worried, talk to your pediatrician.”
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