Can We All Please Calm Down?

In transparency, these musings are being written over what should be my lunch time. However, I have no appetite (a rare occurrence) following a harrowing morning. The phones have been ringing off the hook, a scene that is repeated daily nowadays, and I understand why. But we all need to take one big collective step back, inhale deeply, exhale slowly and recalibrate.

After three and a half months of children at home, Zooming through learning, yet confined to the premises with no play dates, many day camps opened. Kids were excited. Their parents breathed sighs of relief, grateful that they would have a semblance of summer (meaning children outside the home for a good chunk of the day, duly occupied). Okay, so there are carpools rather than universal bussing.

But no one realized there is a price to be paid. It’s called angst. Uncontrolled angst that has rattled parents and caregivers as well as pediatricians and their teams.

During this summer of Covid-19, camps have instituted a daily protocol that parents sign a Daily Health Questionnaire. Questions include:

Parents then call. They are concerned and don’t know how to filter out what matters and what does not, asking, for example, whether their 11-year old needs a Covid swab because the 18-month old has a runny nose.

I understand these questions and why they are important. But other than the question specific to Covid-19, there are more likely diagnoses than Covid-19 for children and teens.

Please note that the laboratories are overloaded with requests for nasal Covid swabs and they cannot process them in a few hours but rather about a week.

Interestingly, when Covid-19 slammed us almost four months ago, strep throat, rashes, broken bones and stitches – among the “mainstays” of pediatrics – disappeared. Completely. Children were not socializing outside the home. They weren’t in school, sharing toys, food and many other things. A local pharmacy corroborated that there were no medications for strep throat prescribed or weeks and weeks during the spring.

Now that kids are back together, even in small groups, they are getting sick again. Within a recent 10-day span, my colleagues and I saw 8 cases of broken bones (not a fun way to spend the summer). One morning last week, several families called, seeking medical attention for various ailments. Each arrived at the office masked and were examined. Within a span of five minutes, three kids from two different families tested positive for strep throat. My team and I were excited because it was only strep throat for which the parents were grateful.

Summer time is active time. Children will go outdoors, swim, ride bikes, walk, whatever. They will then leave the humidity and go back indoors at least a half-dozen times daily into blasting air conditioning. Have we forgotten that this contrast in environments can be an invitation to the common cold to take up residence in our noses and respiratory systems? Common colds, allergies and viruses were here last summer and they are here now. Not everything is Covid-19 although the symptoms may overlap with Covid-19.

Each parent has “seichel” about their children and they should access and use it. This is why we need to slow down and think before allowing anxiety to creep into this part of our lives.

By no means am I saying Covid is gone and not to worry. Far from it. The daily news is replete with the escalating numbers in our country which I believe are due in no small measure to expanded testing AND that people have become far too relaxed too quickly about social distancing.

This is not a call to panic you but to urge you to return to the behaviors of vigilance we exercised a few short months ago and adapt them for the present time. The boxed meal for a Kiddush, Seudah or whatever is an excellent idea and this way, hands are not grabbing food that other hands have touched. When anyone comes through the door, wash hands for 20 seconds and then dry thoroughly. Wear a mask into a store. Better yet, stores should only allow adults with masks to shop and children should be left at home. Remember that when sneezing, try to sneeze into your arm.

We need to step up our game. The beginning of the 2020-21 academic year is only eight weeks away. The Yamim Noraiim are within days thereafter. Flu season is not far behind then. My readers know I advocate for vaccines including the flu vaccine, which assumes special importance this year.

What does this mean for your child and camp?

Send them off with hugs and kisses, telling each one you love them (no child can hear this enough). Welcome them home with a big smile and bottle of liquid soap, directing them to the sink to wash their hands. Encourage them to change their clothes. Play outside but do not share food or drink. Don’t enter other people’s homes – rather, come home to use the bathroom. Know that your children, now that some sense of “new normalcy” is being created, are going to get sick. Use your maternal and paternal instincts to filter out what matters and what does not. If your child needs medical attention at 4 pm, then call the pediatrician then and not at 8 pm tha night or 6:30 am the following morning.

As always, daven.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.