Parents worried about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on their children’s health can take some comfort from the fact that the medical profession has “really good data  from China” and “children do exceptionally well with this illness. 

“There has been an exceptionally low rate of death and hospitalization in children and teens,” according to Dr. Beth Natt, director of pediatric hospitalist programs for Norwalk, Danbury and St. Mary’s hospitals, all staffed by doctors from Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.

Dr. Natt speaks not only as a doctor but also as a mom. She and her husband, Jeff Borofsky, live in Easton and have four school-age children.

“Children fortunately are not at high risk even if they get COVID-19, and it’s likely they will,” Dr. Natt said. “They likely will do very well with it. Some children are going to the hospital, but they’re not dying, according to the data.”

Anxieties were heightened last week when parents learned from Dr. Thomas McMorran, superintendent of the Easton, Redding, and Region 9 School Districts, said that a teacher at Joel Barlow High School had been diagnosed with the coronavirus.

According to Dr. McMorran’s email, “The teacher started to manifest symptoms on the evening of Friday, March 13. Full symptoms did not appear until Saturday, March 14. Our students and staff were dismissed on the afternoon of Thursday, March 12.” 

Although Dr. Natt acknowledges the seriousness of the virus, she also stresses that the best one can do in these situations is communicate the necessary information to those most affected. The important thing is that the information was communicated appropriately.

“My honest opinion about the Barlow teacher having COVID-19 is people should take a deep breath,” she said, and recognize that the teacher disclosed it to his students. 

“So everyone who should be aware, is aware,” she said. “Parents should not be too worried that a teacher came down with it after school was out if their child is doing well and has no risk factors. They shouldn’t be running to the pediatrician, asking to be tested just because their child was in that teacher’s class. They should monitor their child for symptoms and talk to their pediatrician.”

She advised against testing just because their child was exposed and said that chances are, the test won’t be positive. Instead of seeing children at their office, many pediatricians are offering virtual visits or talking with parents by phone. 

“Parents have a great opportunity to teach their child that they need to make themselves a little uncomfortable for the good of others,” Dr. Natt said. “They need to parent up and teach their kids about the importance of social distancing and that teenagers shouldn’t be getting together, even though they are low risk. They can spread COVID-19 to others who are high risk.”

Healthcare professionals and others are doing their utmost to protect children and adults with underlying conditions and everyone at high risk, including teachers, doctors, nurses, and people 70 and over.

Babies under one year might have a higher risk than elementary age kids and teens, but even there, the preliminary data out of China is reassuring, Dr. Natt said. With regard to pregnant women and fetuses, although health care providers are used “to evidence-based medicine with great data, what we have now is not great, we don’t have a lot of data. We’re all learning,” she said.

“This is a marathon, not a sprint,” Dr. Natt said. “Everyone needs to realize the way pediatric offices are running now is not the way they are used to. Parents need to have some patience while pediatricians are doing things to keep us all safe.”

Information for parents about how to talk to their children about COVID-19 now that their whole lives have been disrupted by it is available at the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center website. 

The site contains a resource center and a hotline, 833-226-2362, where parents can ask questions 24/7 about anything and everything that’s on their mind. 

The Best Friends playground on the Helen Keller Middle School campus on Sport Hill Road is closed until further notice because of the Coronavirus. — Greg Golda Photo

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By Nancy Doniger

Nancy Doniger worked as a journalist for three decades and was a founding editor of the nonprofit Easton Courier in partnership with the School of Communications, Media & the Arts at Sacred Heart University (SHU). She served two years as executive member and is now a contributing editing of the Easton Courier. She was a former managing editor of Hometown Publications and Hersam Acorn Newspapers covering Connecticut's Fairfield and New Haven counties. She was a correspondent for the Connecticut section of The New York Times from 1995 until the section was discontinued in 2006. Over the years she edited The Easton Courier, The Monroe Courier, The Bridgeport News and other community newspapers. She taught news editing as an adjunct professor at SHU and served as coordinator and member of the Community Assets Network for the Easton, Redding and Region 9 schools. She was a member of the Newtown Community Center Commission, member of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), board member of the New England Newspaper and Press Association (NENPA), and past president and board member of the Barnard Club of Connecticut. She has won awards for her writing from SPJ and NENPA.