As the highly transmissible COVID-19 variant Omicron brings a record number of cases, vaccinated and even boosted individuals are testing positive. School systems are moving classes back online, airlines are cancelling thousands of flights as pilots and flight attendants test positive and testing sites are overwhelmed with large crowds as we all re-think and revise our masking and social distancing comfort zones.
“The concern is that it is much more contagious than previous variants, making it more likely that we and our children will get it,” said pediatrician Dr. Elena Shea. “The number of cases has exploded.”
As the Omicron variant continues to spread, inevitably parents and children will test positive. So, what should you do if you are one of them? We spoke with physicians and medical experts about the steps and proper procedures you should implement after you’ve received a positive test. Here’s their advice.
First and foremost, what do we know about the severity of this variant in relation to children?
Doctors agree that overall Omicron appears to be less severe than previous variants, like Delta, but it is still too early to know for sure.
“We are still in the data gathering phase in regard to this,” said Dr. Jessica Madden, board-certified pediatrician and neonatologist and Medical Director of Aeroflow Breastpumps. “We are definitely seeing more children hospitalized with Covid-19 right now than at any other time during the pandemic, but it’s unclear if this is due to there being so many positive cases versus it actually causing more severe disease in the pediatric population.”
One thing we do know for sure is that this variant is much more contagious than previous variants, which means there are bound to be more cases which is always a concern for doctors and hospital systems.
If you are unvaccinated, and test positive what should you do?
In an ideal situation, one parent would be able to isolate on a separate floor of the home or even isolate outside the home, while a non-sick parent or caregiver cares for the household.
“We do recommend isolating if possible but we know how hard that is. I know I couldn’t do it in my home,” said Dr. Shea. “If isolation is not possible the parent should wear a mask in the home at all times, should eat separate from the family, and try to limit contact.”
Dr. Shea also recommends following the newest CDC guidelines for unvaccinated persons testing positive, along with alerting anyone you may have come into contact within your contagious period, which is two days since your first symptom or positive test. As well as testing everyone in the home, once a parent or caregiver has tested positive, and then testing everyone again, three to five days after the first initial positive test.
If you are vaccinated and test positive, what should you do?
Regardless of vaccination status, doctors agree that you should take the same precautions if you were not vaccinated.
Dr. Nkeiruka Orajiaka, an attending pediatrician in emergency medicine recommends in addition to isolation, family members should quarantine for five days and then get tested.
“This not only protects us from severe illnesses from Covid, and makes us available to care for our children, if the family gets sick,” she said. “But also provides a cocoon effect for young ones.”
Isolation helps reduce the likelihood of infection, and while being vaccinated is proven to lower the risk of contraction, Dr. Madden says that vaccinated positive individuals can still pass the virus to their children.
What should you do as a parent if you are exposed to someone who has tested positive?
Coming into contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19 can be equally as alarming as testing positive, but Dr. Shea says wearing a mask in your home is the best way to prevent spread.
“Trying to isolate is helpful and everyone who is sick should try to stay in a designated sick area,” she said. “Have their own bathroom if possible, eat separately. But we acknowledge how hard that may be especially if you have small children who may not truly understand what is happening. Try your best.”
What precautions can your household take to prevent anyone from testing positive?
Doctors are clear that the best way to prevent testing positive for Covid-19 is to get everyone in your household who is eligible, vaccinated and boosted.
Dr. Madden also recommends incorporating and encouraging a healthy lifestyle.
“Try your best to live a healthy lifestyle– including eating a wide variety of nutritious foods, getting enough physical activity, and outdoors time with sunshine,” she said.
COVID-19 is not going anywhere, and with children under five still unable to be vaccinated, doctors agree that staying vigilant, safe and doing your part by getting vaccinated and masking up is the best way to protect yourselves and those around you.
“Most parents of kids younger than five years old are tired and stressed due to the fact that the kids cannot get vaccinated yet,” said Dr. Orajiaka. “The best we can do to protect this population is to vaccinate ourselves, wear our mask and limit our exposures, and exposure of our younger ones to visitors.”
Before you go, check out our favorite cough and cold remedies (all natural!) for kids: