Variant B.1.617.2, otherwise known as the delta variant, has been on the CDC’s radar since December of 2020. First detected in the United States in March of this year, the CDC has recently classified the delta variant as one of concern.
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As we’re doing our best to keep up with ever-changing mask guidance and trying to figure out if it’s OK to hang out in public spaces again, we have yet another major concern: Keeping kids safe from the latest strain of COVID-19 as they gear up to head back to school and other group activities.
What can parents do to shield their children from this latest pandemic threat? Honestly, while you might feel helpless, you really aren’t. The tools we’ve used all along are the same ones that can help keep your child safe as they return to their normal routines. Pediatric infectious disease specialist Camille Sabella, MD, shares the latest developments about delta variant symptoms in children and some sage advice for minimizing the risk of infection.
“The delta variant has been a lot more infectious and contagious,” says Dr. Sabella. “It’s much easier to transmit than the previous variants that we’ve seen.”
At this time, we don’t have exact data that reflects the amount of delta variant symptoms in children. However, Dr. Sabella reports that COVID-19 cases among children have steadily increased across the country. On the bright side, the symptoms have mostly been mild: coughing, sneezing, runny nose, upset stomach, headache and fatigue. While this recent strain hasn’t caused a lot of severe illnesses so far, Dr. Sabella says that some children’s hospitals have reported increasing hospitalizations due to the delta variant.
“Generally speaking, children who become infected with COVID-19 have very mild symptoms if they have any of all. It’s been rare to see a child get very ill from COVID-19 regardless of the strain. So far, it does not appear that the delta strain has caused more severe illness in children even though it’s highly transmittable and much more contagious. But we certainly need to keep a close watch since this situation is constantly evolving.”
He adds that should your child start experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, contact their healthcare provider if they experience breathing problems or severe illness.
Since the delta variant is easier to spread, there’s nothing wrong with taking extra steps to protect each other even if you have been vaccinated. In addition to COVID-19, Dr. Sabella has seen a rise in respiratory conditions like respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and human parainfluenza viruses (HPIVs). He emphasizes that there’s still a need to be cautious, especially around older family members.
“Hopefully, those who are at a higher risk for the virus have been vaccinated. While the data tells us that the vaccines are very effective, breakthrough cases are going to occur. That’s why it’s important to be careful around people who have respiratory symptoms, including children. Viruses like RSV and HPIVs are certainly circulating right now among children and they’re causing a lot of havoc. They’re also contributing to a lot of respiratory symptoms which makes it difficult to distinguish the symptoms of RSV and HPIVs from COVID-19.”
The last school year was tough on everyone. Parents had to figure out how to blend their workday roles with school day demands, and kids had to adjust to not having schedules or regular interactions with friends. It was challenging all around — and an experience that many would like to forget. But with a new school year fast approaching, parents might wonder how to make a safe transition back to the classroom. Dr. Sabella says that we already know the answer.
“What we learned from last year is that there are a lot of ramifications — and not all good ones — when kids are not in school. However, the transition back to school has to be done in a way that decreases the transmission of this virus among children, and from children to adults, as much as we can.”
Dr. Sabella says that vaccination plays a big part in keeping things under control.
“The best way to protect everybody against this virus is with vaccines. They have been approved down to 12 years of age. Also, the risks of vaccination are far outweighed by the benefits of vaccination. If a child is too young for vaccination, making sure that everyone else who can get the vaccine is vaccinated makes a lot of sense. When more people in a household are protected, it’s going to be better for those around them, including teachers.”
In terms of new variants, if the rate of infection continues to increase and the number of vaccinations drops off, Dr. Sabella says that we can expect to see more variants pop up.
As the new school year approaches, Dr. Sabella has been hearing the concerns of many parents. While he understands the worry, he still believes that school is the best place for kids to be. Parents just need to keep encouraging their children to be safe and smart since the pandemic is far from over.
“Parents are facing a major dilemma. They’re not sure if they should send their kids back to school or keep them at home. To me, the benefits of being in school far outweigh the risks of being in school. The CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend wearing masks in school. Hand washing remains very important, and it’s still good to maintain social distance as much as possible. We also have to be vigilant about staying away from those who are sick. All of these preventative factors are still very critical.”