Since the beginning of the pandemic, I’ve thought it important to provide you with factual, trustworthy, science-based information free from political rhetoric, to help you make the best decisions for you and your family regarding the coronavirus and COVID-19. While the first wave of COVID-19 is on the decline, to protect ourselves from a resurgence, we must continue to be vigilant and listen to the experts. To help you feel confident in finding the approach which works for you, I recently interviewed two highly respected doctors at the center of the COVID response here in Connecticut — Dr. Anand Sekaran, Head of Pediatric Hospitalists at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center; and Dr. Michael Simms, Chief of Infectious Diseases and Infectious Disease Prevention at Saint Mary’s Hospital. For over two hours, I asked questions about the science of the novel coronavirus, how to protect ourselves and our kids, and got to the bottom of the questions on so many people’s minds — is it safe to reopen the state, and is going out right for me and my family?
First, determine if you are more susceptible to infection, and what your chances are to be able to fight this with your immune system. In our conversation, Dr. Simms explained that the coronavirus is three times more contagious than the seasonal flu, which is important to note, especially for those who are over 60 years old or have comorbidities such as obesity, diabetes, and respiratory illnesses. In fact, being male is now also considered a risk factor. “We don’t know why,” he said, “but it is.” It is therefore imperative that those individuals at greater risk, and the rest of the community, take care to reduce the spread of this virus for the safety of ourselves and our neighbors.
“If anyone is thinking of walking around without a mask, or they don’t think that social distancing is important, you have to understand that the only way we have of dealing with this virus” is through “personal responsibility,” Dr. Simms explained. That personal responsibility includes what Dr. Sekeran calls the “Big Three” proven methods of prevention: hand hygiene, social distancing, and face coverings.
There has been a movement on social media which deters users from wearing masks, claiming personal freedoms or lack of scientific evidence. However, both experts I spoke to disagree. Dr. Simms explained that COVID is transmitted through droplets, and face masks effectively reduce the spread of droplets from one person to another. Used in conjunction with diligent hand-washing and social distancing, the responsible thing to do for your community is to wear a mask when you’re out. In fact, Dr. Simms said not wearing a mask “is foolish.” He was quick to remind us that, even with the proper precautions, there is no way to entirely eliminate your risk. “But it’s kind of like driving a car,” he said. Every time you get in a car, there’s a risk. So what do you do? You take precautions. You don’t drive drunk. You wear a seatbelt. The same is true for COVID. Wear a mask, practice good hand hygiene, stay 6 feet apart, and make sure you’re being cautious.”
Both doctors took the same calm, measured approach to reopening, saying that moving slowly while watching for resurgance is the prudent course, and we must learn to coexist with the virus, knowing that we cannot stay locked in our homes forever. So, as long as we practice the “Big Three,” I asked the doctors, exactly what can we do?
One question I was asked often by senior citizens and children alike is, when is it safe to visit with older family members? Both doctors agreed that, yes, a visit is OK, as long as everyone is on their best behavior, and that they have been diligent with these precautions for at least the past 14 days before the visit. Dr. Sekeran was quick to remind us that, when you visit with someone, “you’re really visiting with everyone that person has come in contact with for the past two weeks.” And while it's difficult to stay socially distanced with your loved ones, it's extremely important when visiting with at-risk populations. And what about going to see that beautiful new baby in the family? “It’s the extremes of age we worry about,” says Dr. Sekaran. Just as with the elderly, visiting is OK, but he recommends even more caution. Stay distanced, wear a mask and ensure that whoever is holding the child must follow safety guidelines. “Even better,’ he said. “visit through a window”.
With summer here, I also asked both doctors about kids’ playdates, camps, and youth sports. Both doctors showed great hesitancy, but agreed that, with proper precautions, which go beyond the “Big Three,” they feel more comfortable approving camps and youth sports. The extra precautions, such as daily temperature checks, elimination of dugouts, 6-feet-plus distancing, small groups, sanitization and, yes, even masks, are of great importance. Sharing equipment like basketballs isn’t recommended because it’s not feasible to sanitize often enough on the court, and it often requires very close contact in play. However, with certain sports such as tennis, softball, and baseball, those rules are easier to enforce.
What about being in a pool with friends? Dr. Sekeran clarified that water will not make the virus spread any easier, but it is difficult to social-distance in a pool, so his suggestion is to keep groups very small, and choose your child’s playmates based on knowing their family’s level of diligence. Dr. Simms concurred, saying it’s just like any question you ask of another parent when your kids are getting together: Have you been diligent about the “Big Three” and staying home as often as possible? If yes, it’s probably safer, but children still need to maintain distance.
A concern I shared with both doctors is, with all the social distancing and staying home, our kids are having more screen time than ever. What to say to concerned parents worried about children overusing technology and mental health? Dr. Sekaran says that parents must remember that we are in a different time period and that, for many children, technology is their way of maintaining social connection. If parents know that social connection is essential, then a balance must be reached. “And,” he noted, “parents need to give themselves a break”.
I understand these precautions aren’t what we’re used to. I know how difficult it is not to hug your elderly parents, or to wear a mask in hundred-degree heat. But Dr. Simms reminds us that surviving coronavirus is a much more arduous task. “We can’t let this virus paralyze us forever … we have to do it in a smart way, or we’re going to pay a price in deaths, disease, and misery. And ultimately, if this gets out of hand again, we have to go back to … lockdown for two more months.”
For more information from experts, without the political bent, please visit my Facebook page. Both interviews have much more information, and are available in their entirety at facebook.com/RepLinehan.