It can be pretty hard to get an appointment at your kids’ doctor’s office right now.
With COVID-19 cases surging in the D.C. region and nationwide, positive cases in children are starting to spike, too.
But parents are also scheduling doctor’s appointments out of fear that their child’s head cold might be COVID-19, said Dr. Katie Edwards, the medical director at Annapolis Pediatrics, which has five offices in Anne Arundel County and on Kent Island.
“People have been coming in over the past few months for things they maybe wouldn’t have necessarily come in for before because it was [an] unnamed virus,” said Edwards.
“Now because it’s a risk less for the child, as we try to encourage them, but it’s also a risk for those around them and older children and parents. People need to know what’s going on with this specific virus,” Edwards said.
She said the impact is on par with what they were dealing with before vaccines were available.
“I hadn’t had a positive COVID [case] in the office for months and then literally it was like an explosion over the past two weeks,” said Edwards. “We’re still seeing kids for regular colds, too. It’s not like every kid with a cold has COVID. But it’s so much more.”
“It’s not burden of illness of really sick kids, it’s just volume of illness,” said Edwards. In terms of winter spikes, she said, “it looks the same as everything else I see all the time every winter, but it’s COVID, so it’s different.”
To keep up with demand, they have providers putting in extra time to conduct tele-health visits from their homes. In fact, she said that’s what two providers who are out of the office with COVID-19 right now are doing, too.
At Children’s National Hospital, case rates have exploded in recent weeks, keeping providers extremely busy. Currently, 48% of the COVID-19 tests administered at Children’s National are coming back positive, though that might make sense when you consider most people who want to get a test are often showing indications they might have the virus already anyway.
“The majority of kids that are presenting to us do have some symptoms,” said Dr. Anisha Abraham, a pediatrician and acting chief of adolescent medicine at Children’s National. “The very small minority of those patients actually end up being hospitalized.”
However, more cases still means more kids in the hospital for treatment, and since September that number has nearly doubled from 23 to around 40 kids requiring treatment. Every day she sees the difference between what can and can’t happen when kids who are eligible to be vaccinated have gotten the shot.
“For those kids that are vaccinated, we continue to see that they’re having milder cases, they’re not being hospitalized,” said Abraham. “We’re also seeing that more kids that are younger, under the age of 5, who are the ones that are hospitalized.”
New CDC guidance on testing and exposure is also helping. Annapolis Pediatrics has set up a drive-thru testing site for kids at one of its offices, though Edwards said in some cases not everyone inquiring about a test needs one, at least right away. Someone who is asymptomatic even though they were considered exposed to someone with COVID-19 is just asked to wait five days before taking a test. She said there have been plenty of visits and conversations with parents that are more focused on reassurance and information.
“We are certainly trying our best but we are not going to be able to test everybody all the time,” said Edwards. “So we’re trying to educate people about what’s really going to make a difference in what you’re going to do in the next five days or not.”
“Kids are not getting that sick,” said Edwards. “That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t quarantine or shouldn’t mask and we shouldn’t vaccinate, but I think we can have a lot of reassurances for people about the health of their children, testing or no testing.”
Dr. Abraham expressed a similar sentiment.
“It’s really important for families to be vigilant right now,” she said. “To make sure that if there is concerns about exposure we’re using all the precautions out there. This is certainly a time where we’re seeing a much higher level of contagion related to this particular variant.”