New Brunswick

Kids will be kids ... and then there's COVID-19

Saint John pediatrician recommends some tough love for teens and testing for children

Posted: April 09, 2020

Dr. Sarah Gander says now is the time to pay attention to any respiratory symptoms that might otherwise be dismissed in children. (Submitted by Sarah Gander)

Researchers have called it the one bright spot in the COVID-19 pandemic — the not fully explained anomaly that children infected by the coronavirus seem largely unaffected. 

"Pediatric patients tend to get off a bit easy," says Dr. Sarah Gander. "Their symptoms really look like the common cold."

But don't assume it is, she says. 

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"We're used to kids having snotty noses and little coughs," she said. "People don't tend to seek care for these things, but it is very important to have the population tested."

Gander said now is the time to pay attention to any respiratory symptoms that might otherwise be dismissed in children as a cold, an allergy or a flare of asthma.

Parents should watch for gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea, which have appeared in covid-positive kids. (Chepko Danil Vitalevich/Shutterstock)



Parents should also look out for gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea, which have appeared in covid-positive kids.  

"Kids might be mild but they might be carrying the disease and we might not know unless they're tested," said Gander. 

"And the only way we can make the decisions we need to make and be able to know when is the right time to come back together is if we have an understanding of the burden of the disease in the region," she said. 

7 N.B. youth have tested positive

As of Wednesday in New Brunswick, there were 108 cases of COVID-19 in the province, including four children under the age of 10 and three youth between the ages of 10 and 19. 

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Teens are also unlikely to develop severe illness and some may be feeling a little too invincible.

Dylan Roberts, a Grade 12 student at Simonds High School, said he sees teens cheating the distancing rules. 

They cluster, he said, at the parking lot at McAllister Place and also at the Little River Reservoir Park, where Roberts sometimes goes for a run. 

"I see kids hanging out, outside their cars, sometimes in a big circle or standing around a picnic table, I've seen that a lot," he says.

"They're chatting and talking almost like there's no pandemic, acting like nothing's going on."

COVID-19 symptoms can range from mild to severe. (CBC News)

Roberts fears it will only get worse as time wears on. 

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"If this goes on another week or so, people will break the rules even more than now," he said.

"They'll just get tired of the whole thing."

Parents need to double down

Gander says adolescents are prone to pushing the boundaries but they need to understand that they can spread the virus even when they feel fine. 

"I have a special compassion for teenagers," said Gander. "It is hard to keep that age group away from their friends but until we know exactly what is going on in our community, that's a very high-risk group to be out and about, not obeying social distancing regulations."

"It's probably a place for parents to double down," she added.

In the absence of sports and organized activities, with playgrounds closed and some parks as well, Gander said it requires some creative thinking to stay active and apart. 

Three new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed on Wednesday, including the first case in the Bathurst region. (CBC)

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"Physical activity is not just a checkmark, it actually prevents problems down the road," she said. "We know that the fall-out of all of this is going to be some mental health strain. It already is."

Breaking the rules could be catastrophic 

At the government's Wednesday COVID briefing, public health and the premier hammered the message to stay the course on physical distancing, even through the first long weekend of spring.

No Easter egg hunts, said Premier Blaine Higgs and no extended family dinners. 

"If people don't maintain physical distancing, this could be catastrophic," he said.

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Dr.Jennifer Russell, the chief medical health officer for the province, repeated that the rules are the same for everyone.

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"For adolescents we are saying we don't want to see anybody visit with people outside their own homes," she said. "That's the advice for whatever age you are."

While testing for COVID-19  still requires a referral through tele-health or through a virtual visit with a family physician, the criteria changed slightly this week. 

As of Tuesday, travel outside New Brunswick is no longer the key determinant in referrals. 

However, the province says testing will continue to focus on health-care workers, patients in hospitals and nursing homes, as well as first responders. 

Another priority is people over the age of 60.