It’s another unfortunate consequence of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic: Children who have needed medical attention have not received it because their parents are worried about them catching the infection in a clinic or hospital.
This fear may be understandable, but it’s potentially dangerous because other illnesses haven’t disappeared during these challenging times.
“We’ve had children presenting with more severe illness in our emergency room because parents are afraid to come in,” says Stephanie Duggins Davis, MD, physician-in-chief at UNC Children’s and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the UNC School of Medicine.
For example, when children with diabetes are not diagnosed early enough, they come into the hospital much sicker than usual, says UNC Health diabetes specialist Ali S. Calikoglu, MD. With early diagnosis and treatment, children can stay out of the hospital, but a late diagnosis can lead to a life-threatening illness and can result in a child needing to be admitted to the intensive care unit.
If you notice that your child is drinking a lot and urinating more than usual, you should have your child seen by a healthcare provider as soon as possible. “If we can get them in and diagnosed soon after symptoms begin, they are in good shape, but if they come in after they have had symptoms for six or more weeks, they are really very sick,” Dr. Calikoglu says.
Clinics and Hospitals Are Prepared to Help
For cases that require an in-person visit to a clinic or hospital, know that healthcare workers are making your safety, and their own, the first priority.
Waiting rooms are either no longer being used—some offices might ask you to wait in your car—or strict physical distancing measures are in place. In some cases, including at UNC Health’s emergency departments in Chapel Hill and Hillsborough, tents have been set up outside to screen patients for COVID-19 and provide masks for them to wear during their visits. People with COVID-19 symptoms are separated from those without.
Clinic staff is minimizing the number of people who interact with each patient, and everyone is wearing masks and other personal protective equipment as needed. Surfaces are frequently sanitized, and hand-washing is a constant focus. If a patient needs only bloodwork, some clinics are sending phlebotomists to the patient’s car to draw blood.
“We’ve made it very safe for them to come into the emergency department, urgent care center and our clinics,” Dr. Davis says.
Don’t Delay Vaccinations
It is very important to keep up with your children’s vaccinations because they are the best way to prevent several dangerous diseases.
The number of vaccines administered to children has dropped significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This has healthcare providers concerned because delays in vaccines could lead to outbreaks of serious diseases such as measles and whooping cough.
If your child is behind on his or her vaccinations, call your doctor to get them scheduled soon. Ask your doctor’s office staff to explain their COVID-19 prevention strategy if you have concerns.
Get Help Immediately for Emergencies
If your child is seriously injured or has an uncontrolled fever (it does not subside with a fever-reducing medicine), trouble breathing or any other medical situation that needs immediate attention, don’t put off getting care. Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away. It could save your child’s life.
For the latest information on COVID-19, visit the CDC website and the UNC Health COVID-19 Resources page, and follow UNC Health on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.