As we head into the late spring and summer months, we receive daily updates and changes to how we practice COVID-19 safety. Millions of grownups are getting vaccinated every day and many schools have reopened for in-person learning. A large number of after school programs are restarting activities. But what does that mean for children and their safety?
In proportion, fewer children have been physically affected by covid than adults, but as we enter this next phase (one of the last we hope) the virus has definitely impacted children’s physical and emotional health. With new virus strains on the horizon, it is important that we continue learning and implementing the best ways to help children stay healthy.
In this blog, we are exploring what science says about the pandemic’s impact on children. We will take a look at how COVID-19 has affected children so far, and what we can do to keep them safe as we slowly get back to a more “normal” daily life.
The Impact of the Pandemic on Children So Far
Early in the pandemic, testing was greatly limited, even more so for those under 18. By the end of the summer 2020, pediatric testing was beginning to catch up with adult testing. Fast forward to April 2021 when children represented 20% of all positive test samples in states who report for this demographic. Note: Children are roughly 25% of all Americans.
While early on we assumed Children were infected less than adults, today we recognize they are likely infected at the same rate as the surrounding community. The good news? To date, children have been hospitalized at a rate significantly lower than adults. Sadly, almost 300 children have died since the start of the pandemic (just under double the number of annual deaths due to the flu).
There have also been medical complications found in children who have been infected with COVID-19, even if they did not get seriously sick. Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) is a condition where different body parts can become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or gastrointestinal organs. Children with MIS-C may have a fever and various symptoms, including abdominal (gut) pain, vomiting, diarrhea, neck pain, rash, bloodshot eyes, or feeling extra tired. We do not yet know what causes MIS-C. However, many children with MIS-C had the virus that causes COVID-19, or had been around someone with COVID-19.
Childrens’ physical health is of the utmost importance, but the impact of the pandemic on children’s mental health is also significant. School closures meant big changes to their social and academic experiences. It also heightened stressors that many families face, like food scarcity, access to health care and domestic issues.
As schools reopen, there will be a need for non-academic services and support to help children thrive through the transition back to in-school life. One way STEMful supports children’s emotional health is through our Social Emotional Learning (SEL) approach to education. SEL activities help them regulate the stress, fear, and frustration they may be experiencing due to distance learning or changes to their routines. In all of our after-school programs, camps, and activities, SEL is at the core of how we teach and work with children.
The Spread of COVID-19 Among Children
Not only are there fewer reported cases of COVID-19 among children, several studies have found there are fewer incidents of children getting infected with SARS-CoV-2. Younger children, or those under 10 years old, are less likely to get infected with the virus. While their immune systems react differently to viruses than adults, there may also be anatomical reasons children are less likely to get infected with SARS-CoV-2.
Children’s underdeveloped sinuses may make them less likely to get infected with SARS-CoV-2. While the virus can be found in the upper airways (location used for pediatric nasal swab testing), it replicates in the mid airways and causes illness when it reaches the lower airway, intestinal tract and potentially other organs such as the brain and heart. One potential reason why children are infected less is the smaller overall surface area of childrens airways (smaller bodies = smaller infection zones). Because children’s sinuses are still growing, the ability of the virus to replicate may be lowered as compared to older children and adults.
When children do get infected with the virus, they are just as capable of spreading it as adults. Recent studies have shown that children infected with SARS-CoV-2 had just as much of the virus in their upper respiratory tracts as infected adults, regardless of their symptoms.
What Do Adult Vaccines Mean for Children?
Many families are now navigating what life looks like with vaccinated parents and unvaccinated children. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that vaccinated grownups still wear well-fitting masks and practice physical distancing, especially in public and around unvaccinated people. But what does that mean for their children?
Until children can be vaccinated, it is important for parents to continue encouraging safe practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19. When you are exploring activities and even your children’s return to school, masking, physical distancing, and confirming indoor safety measures should be a priority. That is why at STEMful, we have made safe indoor spaces a major focus for our students and additionally offer outdoor programming.
What About New Virus Strains?
There are variants of the COVID-19 virus circulating the globe. You might have heard that B.1.1.7 appears to infect children more aggressively. This is due to a mutation that makes it easier for the virus to latch onto our cells and cause an infection. Computer studies have shown that B.1.1.7 attaches better to ACE-2 receptors, which could be why it is more infectious for children than SARS-CoV-2.
While scientists work to understand the virus variants and how they impact children and adults alike, it is all the more important to continue safe practices to prevent the spread of any strain.
How to Help Children Stay Healthy
Looking ahead at the promising yet uncertain months to come, parents should be doing everything they can to minimize the impact of the pandemic on children. We need to help our children stay healthy as they go about their activities and education. Here are our tips for doing so.
Get Them Outside
Helping your children get outdoors this spring and summer is one of the safest ways they can still learn and have fun while minimizing exposure. STEMful has a variety of summer programs for preschool and school-aged kids where they will spend time outside while having a blast learning STEM concepts!
Have Them Wear Masks
Children two years old and older should wear masks when in public and around people outside your household. At STEMful, we require our students and staff wear masks properly to prevent spread. Effective mask-wearing means using a mask that:
- Has at least two layers of washable & breathable fabric
- Has a filter layered in between the fabric layers
- Completely covers your nose and mouth
- Fits snugly against your face
- Has a nose wire to assist in snugness around the nose
Make Sure They Wash Hands
Washing hands protects children from getting and spreading COVID-19. Everyone should use soap and water to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds, making sure to scrub every surface of their hands. When handwashing is not possible, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
Confirm Safety at Indoor Spaces
There are many measures that businesses with indoor gatherings should take to create safe spaces.
At STEMful, we continue to proactively invest in tools and practices to give our students and staff safe spaces indoors, including:
- Updating our HVAC system with HEPA (MERV13) filters
- Changing HEPA filters every 60 days (6 times per year)
- Continuously running the HVAC system from 6am until 10pm every day
- installing portable HEPA-only (no added gadgets) air purifiers in each room
- monitoring CO2 levels in every room (below 800ppm and often lower)
- Continuously running exhaust fans in both bathrooms (vented to the outdoors)
- Opening windows
- 2 windows above front door
- 2 windows in main pod area
- 2 windows in Curiosity room
- 2 windows in the basement area
- Goal of exchanging the indoor air with fresh or filtered air 5 to 6 times every hour
While we may not know the long-term impact of the pandemic on children, the past year has shown us just how important it is to help children stay healthy as we navigate this experience.
We are excited to offer fun outdoor educational activities for children at STEMful this spring and summer, where parents can rest assured we consider every safety precaution and limit exposures. Visit our Programs page to sign your kids up today!