COVID-19 is still spreading: What parents need to know

By The Health News Team | December 7, 2022
Mother and son wearing masks

Most pediatricians have spent lots of time, energy and passion over the past year encouraging parents to allow their children age 5 and older to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Their expertise, the data and their trust in science offer all they need to know that vaccination is safe, effective and vital in our efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 and keep children — and those around them — healthy.

For Dr. Ahmad Bailony, department chief of pediatrics at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center, his own experience as a child has afforded him a unique viewpoint when it comes to vaccine-preventable diseases: He almost died due to the complications of one.

“When I was a kid, I was hospitalized for weeks with meningitis,” he says. “In my entire career as a doctor, I’ve never seen a case of that specific type of meningitis among my patients, and that’s because we now have a vaccine for that disease.”

The contagiousness of omicron
Another thing Dr. Bailony says he’s yet to see in his 17 years as a pediatrician is a virus that is as contagious as the omicron variant of the coronavirus, the virus that causes COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports nearly 460,000 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in the U.S. during the 7-day period of Dec. 1 to Dec. 7.

“It is no exaggeration that approximately every other call coming into our office is about respiratory illness, including COVID-19,” says Dr. Bailony. “COVID, in general, and the rapid spread of omicron are really causing parents a lot of stress and anxiety, especially as RSV and flu are also causing illness in children.”

According to Dr. Bailony, anecdotal evidence shows that omicron may cause less severe illness in people of all ages than previous variants. However, he says that more children are seeking care and requiring hospitalization as omicron continues to spread.

“Given that this variant is more contagious, an increased number of children are getting COVID-19, especially those who have not yet been vaccinated,” he says. “So, as more children get COVID, you’ll inevitably see more kids becoming more severely ill from it.”

Preventing omicron infection
This is why, Dr. Bailony says, it is crucial that everyone who is eligible for COVID-19 vaccination — including children 6 months and older — and those 5 and older who are eligible to receive a booster shot get up to date on vaccination so we can stop the spread of COVID and protect more children from becoming ill.

However, as of the beginning of December 2022, just 6% of children under 5; 37% of kids ages 5 to 11; and 67% of kids ages 12 to 17 had completed their primary vaccine series in California. And when it comes to the bivalent vaccine booster — specifically targeted to provide protection against omicron — only 8% of kids ages 5 to 11 and 9% of kids ages 12 to 17 had received it.

“This is a matter of all of us taking care of each other — we’re in this together,” says Dr. Bailony. “I strongly encourage all parents to be up to date on their own COVID vaccinations and to get their eligible children vaccinated and boosted.”

Dr. Bailony also recommends that families continue to practice other COVID-prevention strategies:

  • Choose outdoor activities over indoor activities when possible.

  • Consider wearing a face mask when in crowded indoor public locations.

  • Avoid places that are crowded and poorly ventilated.

  • Wash hands often with soap and water or use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

  • Sanitize frequently touched surfaces.

  • Avoid people who are sick.

  • Monitor your health for symptoms of COVID-19 — cough, nasal congestion, fatigue, sore throat, headache, body aches and fever — and get tested if symptoms develop.

If your child has COVID-19
As COVID-19 cases once again rise within the community, your child’s chance of COVID exposure and infection also rises. However, Dr. Bailony stresses that in most cases, you can treat your child as you would if they had any other respiratory illness.

Symptoms of COVID-19 are usually mild and last a few days to a week. Although, a very small number of children may experience multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C), a rare, life-threatening condition that can cause dangerous inflammation in the eyes, skin, blood vessels and heart.

“If your child is not having trouble breathing, is taking fluids pretty well and still making good urine output, generally, you can watch them at home,” says Dr. Bailony. “You should definitely have them tested for COVID and flu because they share similar symptoms. And then, you should isolate your child from others and contact your child’s pediatrician for further advice.”

The CDC also recommends talking to your child’s doctor about using pediatric over-the-counter medications for fever, aches and pain. And make sure your child rests and drinks lots of fluids.

Monitor your child for signs of severe illness and seek emergency medical care immediately if they are experiencing any:

  • Trouble breathing

  • Pain or pressure in the chest

  • Confusion

  • Inability to wake or stay awake

  • Pale, gray or blue-colored skin, lips or nail beds

“We have been vaccinating kids for months now, and they have been doing very well,” Dr. Bailony says. “In fact, a lot of them are excited to get it. And their parents are relieved that we have vaccines to avoid severe pediatric illness and hospitalization like my own.”

Get the latest COVID-19 information on vaccines, testing, getting care and more.

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