Nova Scotia

IWK starts virtual COVID-19 checks for children who test positive

The IWK Health Centre has started a new system to reach out to families of kids with COVID-19, but hasn't been able to connect with more than 100 of them.

Several children have been admitted to the IWK Health Centre in Nova Scotia's third wave

The IWK now reaches out to all families in Nova Scotia who have kids with COVID-19, and offers them a virtual appointment to assess their child. (Ryan Wilson, IWK)

The IWK Health Centre in Halifax has launched a new system to reach out to families of kids with COVID-19, but hasn't been able to connect with more than 100 of them.

More than 850 kids under the age of 19 have tested positive for COVID-19 in the third wave, which is by far the largest number of cases among children so far during the pandemic in Nova Scotia.

The high numbers have pushed the children's hospital to offer more support to families with infected children at home.

"It does worry me, seeing those numbers," said Dr. Kirstin Weerdenburg, a pediatric emergency physician at the IWK. "We're always on high alert because of this."

Virtual appointments for children

Weerdenburg said physicians at the hospital now phone families after a positive diagnosis and ask if they want to set up a virtual appointment.

During the appointment, physicians spend nearly half an hour assessing the child and giving the parents guidance on what to do next.

Weerdenburg said parents are often anxious at the beginning of the appointment, but find the conversation reassuring.

"It's helpful for us, too," she said. "Seeing the child gives us a lot of information. A lot of kids can't tell us what's wrong."

Watch out for breathing difficulties, dehydration

While most children have fared well with little or no symptoms, some have required hospitalization in the third wave. The IWK said none have needed intensive care.

Weerdenburg said the most common complications in children are difficulty breathing and dehydration. Both of those symptoms should trigger a trip to the hospital, she said.

"Some of these kids aren't drinking as they usually are, or they're vomiting, or they have abdominal pan, which is limiting them from staying hydrated," she said.

Weerdenburg said they've also admitted some babies.

"We're more worried about them just because of their age and we're just a bit more cautious," she said.

Challenge reaching families

Earlier this week, Nova Scotia Health appealed to people to answer unknown calls as the health authority works to implement an at-home care program for those with COVID-19. Weerdenburg said the IWK is facing the same challenge.

As of Thursday, there were 102 families that could not be reached. Half of those families gave incorrect contact information, while the remaining families have not been answering calls from physicians.

Weerdenburg suggested any parents who haven't heard from the hospital should reach out to their primary care provider or call 811 if they need guidance on their child's situation.

Dr. Ashley Miller, the chief medical information officer for Nova Scotia, demonstrates how to use a pulse oximeter. The IWK has ordered 30 pediatric monitors to send to families who have sick children at home. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

The IWK is also following Nova Scotia Health's lead by ordering pediatric pulse oximeters. The monitors can be placed on a finger and gives an accurate reading of oxygen levels.

While adult oximeters can be sanitized and reused, pediatric ones are disposable. Weerdenburg said they'll be sent to families as soon as they arrive.

In the meantime, she's asking all parents to trust that the emergency department is safe. The hospital has designated infection rooms and patients are immediately isolated when they arrive.

Like with the first two waves of COVID-19, Weerdenburg said the hospital has seen a drop in emergency visits for all reasons.

She advised parents that if they see a change in their child's condition, they shouldn't hesitate to come to the hospital.