Corona Positive Until Proven Otherwise

My lifelong drive to do for people and for my community is one of the reasons I became a physician. But my drive is not just about doing. It’s about doing the right thing and doing it properly. Hence, what I’m about to say may not be popular. Yet winning a popularity contest has never been a goal for me. By saying what I am about to, I am confident that I am doing things correctly which, with G-d’s help, will help and benefit us all.

All children returning home from overnight camp should be deemed Corona/Covid-19 positive until proven otherwise.

This is strong. This is blunt. It certainly is not sugarcoated. Allow me to explain why and the thinking behind this statement, as well as a “game plan” for moving forward.

Too many of our children are returning home from overnight camp Covid-19 positive: even one child returning home Covid positive is one too many. When returning home, they’ve been meeting their parents at the buses with symptoms of sore throats, fevers, loss of taste, loss of smell, etc. These symptoms do not ring bells but sound alarms. These myriad of symptoms which may have been present before boarding the bus to Home Sweet Home.

Parents whisked kids off to pediatricians who tested and confirmed the alarms – Covid-19. There was Covid-19 in camps. But how? Kids were to have been tested to make sure they were Covid negative prior to boarding the buses to camp. Camps were to have been hermetically sealed, with staff and campers not leaving grounds for any reason whatsoever. I wrote about this not even 8 weeks ago. But speculating how the Covid outbreak in camps has happened is not for now.

Several parents of Covid positive kids then notified camps administrators, urging camps to inform all parents pronto (thank G-d for email) that kids had tested positive for Covid-19.

As an aside, a colleague told me about a Covid-positive patient who said that after she and her friends did not find the camp nurse particularly helpful when informed of their symptoms, the girls decided to see what it really meant to have no taste sensation. They planned and executed an onion-and-garlic-mustard-sandwich party, laughing while ingesting since they could not taste a blessed morsel nor smell a thing. Ugh. I’ve wondered how they got the goodies for this party. Remember: Camps were to have been hermetically sealed.

In the meantime, what about the other kids coming home from camp? As soon as they bounced off the buses, they do what any other kids do when returning from camp. They visit Bubbe and Grandpa. They shop in stores and accompany Mommy on errands. They spend time/hang out with friends. They also attend or work in local day camps. In other words, these kids who unknowingly might have Covid or may be “shedders” are unwittingly and unknowingly spreading Covid within our communities.

It is no wonder then that there has been an uptick in the number of Corona cases in our neighborhood and extended community. It is an uncomfortable feeling that departments of health are reaching out to our Askanim and professionals to discuss this phenomenon.

The next waves of kids returning home from camps are about to occur. I believe that camps heretofore mishandled things because of ignorance. There is no blaming here. We cannot afford discordance or finger pointing. What we need is a plan, one that will identify who is Covid positive and quarantine them.

So this is my vision.

Imma or Daddy should reach out to the pediatrician to find out what the pediatric office has planned for Covid testing. Book an appointment for each returning child.

Before disembarking from the bus, each child should be handed a mask. Mommy or Abba, who should also be masked, should greet them warmly: A hug is fine as long as the two huggers are masked. Then it’s off to see the pediatrician for the Covid test and physical exam. If there is a time lag waiting for the results, quarantine the child at home. Spoil them. They like Carlos and Gabby’s? Then get it for them. They deserve it. At least for a moment or two. The test results will come back soon enough (albeit not soon enough for your preteens and teens)

Why is this (feel free to use the adjective “Draconian”) step important?

The reality is Covid has never gone away. That’s clear. Our efforts at socially distancing in the spring were extraordinary and gleaned good results. But going into Month #6 of the Corona Odyssey is a bummer. The thought of quarantining again is too much to bear, especially with the school year and Yamim Noraiim looming. Besides which , we are a social people and Covid seems to thrive among social beings.

But we need to learn from the lessons of Spring 2020 in order to squash these cases that arise before they mushroom and spread like wildfire. Many people are counting on the fact that they tested positive for Covid earlier this year and then tested positive for having antibodies. Yet no one really knows the long-term implications of having had Covid and antibodies and possibly suffering through it again. We don’t know the answer (yet) to a fundamental question: If I had Covid and also tested for antibodies, am I not “safe”? The only thing we really know about Covid-19 is how little we really know. This is humbling. So at a very minimum, please try to exercise some preventative caution. Some quarantining now can thwart bigger problems down the line.

There is an additional implication of how little we really know about Covid. Weeks ago, I wrote about PMIS – Pediatric Multi Inflammatory Syndrome. We in the world of pediatric medicine quaked at the thought of missing this syndrome that seemed to be associated with children and Covid. We took it seriously and documented patients who presented with what appeared to be relevant symptoms. We have the beginnings of a data base that can be mined to learn more about the little known Corona and the damages it causes.

Hence, I underscore the importance of getting your child to the pediatrician as fast as possible if they return home with any Covid-like symptoms. Your pediatrician should obtain a detailed history and document accordingly, including the physical exam. Please G-d, it should be done ultimately for nothing. However, if your child presents with symptoms weeks or months down the road, they might be connected to Covid. Who really knows right at this moment in time about physical symptoms and what may develop. But let’s be vigilant: information is knowledge and knowledge is power.

In addition to seeing the pediatrician, testing and quarantining until proven Covid negative, we – meaning the “collective” we of all ages — should return to the standards we exercised in March, April and May of appropriate hand hygiene and washing hands (20 second of rubbing hands together under warm water with antiseptic soap) and sneezing into a sleeved arm (and not hands). Masks in stores and other group situations are a must. During the Spanish Flu of 1918, as people thought the pandemic was waning, the people of Los Angleles flooded the streets maskless, celebrating. Within a few short weeks, they were banished back to quarantining because of the spikes. Yet the people of San Francisco heeded its government’s warnings to continue wearing the masks. The city’s economy reopened as did of the cultural, social and educational institutions, assuming and sustaining a new normalcy far more quickly and with far less drama.

My dear readers – Elul Zman is approaching. Many of our children, including my son, are leaving, with G-d’s help, imminently for yeshivas and seminaries in Israel where they will be quarantining and then slowly entering “normal” life there. Our schools need to reopen. Children need proper academics plus the skills of teamwork and socialization that come through our schools’ “hidden curriculum.” We parents need our children to be in school settings.

And then there is shul. Most people when returning to davening in Minyanim were moved to tears to be able to answer “Amen, Yehay Shmay Raba Mevorach L’Olam U-L’Olmay Olmaya.” Last Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, few of us truly appreciated what it meant to daven B’Tzibur and to be in shul. We need to be in shul this Yom Tov, to appeal to the Master of all to overturn the decree called Covid-19 that was sealed on Yom Kippur last year. Davening the Unesaneh Tokef takes on a special poignancy this year, especially since most of know us know at least someone who experienced and succumbed to some of what Rabbi Amnon of Mainz describes.

I, for one, have no desire to daven outdoors indefinitely. I enjoy my shtender and Makom Kavua in shul and daven fervently that none of this is jeopardized for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

I have taken a firm stand and believe that we physicians and parents must be physicians and parents. Children are deemed Covid positive until proven negative. By slowing down and reintegrating the healthy hygiene habits from spring 2020 back into our lives, we have a fighting chance to resume life as we once knew it. A major “reset” button is what this doctor orders.

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.