- Groups of parents in some areas have been coming together, agreeing not to test their children for COVID-19 in order to avoid school closures.
- Experts say these pacts could increase community spread, thus leading to longer closures and even deaths.
- While most children have mild COVID-19 symptoms, some experience severe consequences and need to be monitored by doctors.
- Testing is a crucial tool in providing effective care and limiting the spread of COVID-19 as soon as possible
All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date.
In late October 2020, news broke that parents across the country had come together with one common goal: keeping COVID-19 numbers down so that schools could remain open, after-school sports and activities could resume, and local businesses wouldn’t have to face shutdowns due to rising numbers.
In order to accomplish this goal, parents began urging each other to not get their children tested for COVID-19 if they began showing symptoms.
In their minds, reduced testing would translate into reduced numbers, allowing life to continue as normally as possible.
There’s just one problem with that plan: It doesn’t mean the risks of COVID-19 go away.
Pediatrician Dr. Gigi Youngblood, from Children’s of Alabama recently told Healthline that fatigue is ultimately behind the latest “mom code.”
“Everyone is tired of the day-to-day impact this pandemic has on virtually everyone’s lives. No one is unaffected,” Youngblood explained. “Most of us long to get back to our usual activities, including work, school, extracurriculars, and socializing.”
She said that parents are also worried about the effects of ongoing disruptions in education and socialization on their kids. They yearn for them to have something “normal” in this year that is anything but.
Meanwhile, plenty more are facing economic stressors, making extended periods of quarantine and isolation especially difficult.
Just because we can all relate to and understand the stresses parents are under, doesn’t mean choosing not to test kids is a good idea. Dr. Mayssa Abuali is a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia.
She says that a zero-testing “mom code” can cause additional spread within the community.
“A child infected with COVID-19 can spread the virus to vulnerable family members such as elderly grandparents or family members with underlying health problems,” Abuali explained. “These vulnerable individuals can experience severe COVID-19 requiring hospitalization and are at high risk of dying from this virus.”
While most children seem to fare pretty well against COVID-19, experiencing only mild symptoms, she went on to say there is a small subset that gets so sick they require ICU admission for respiratory support (oxygen or machines to help them breathe).
By testing and testing early, Abuali said your child’s pediatrician can help monitor your child’s progress and help you assess whether or not they may need additional care.
“Not knowing the cause of an illness does not change what is happening within the body,” Youngblood said. “We are in a situation where we have access to a test that can improve our ability to provide answers to stop the spread of a virus within a community and help guide parents in important decisions about their child’s health.”
Youngblood explained that instead of skipping out on testing, what families really need right now is better education and organization.
“We are still actively fighting the spread of profoundly inaccurate information about this virus and the effects of the disease it causes,” she said. “We need families to better understand the wide spectrum of outcomes we are seeing after COVID.”
While the national narrative remains hyper-focused on loss of life, Youngblood said it’s important for parents to understand that there are many patients who may never be hospitalized, but will suffer for months because of this disease.
Still, Youngblood recognizes the reasons parents may choose not to test their symptomatic children, and she says we need better organization to identify and provide resources to families as they navigate repeated school shutdowns, time out of work, and time away from their usual support networks.
With those supports, parents may be less likely to agree to these no-testing pacts.
One of the biggest reasons for testing, aside from identifying patients who may need additional care, is to help contain the virus.
“We can box in this virus through mass rapid testing, contact tracing, and isolation of infected persons,” Abuali explained. “We cannot control this virus without knowing who is carrying it and thus spreading it.”
As anxious as everyone is for this pandemic to end, testing is one of the tools we have to help make that happen as quickly as possible.
By choosing not to use that tool, parents are only extending the amount of time we’ll be dealing with shutdowns and other inconveniences as a result of community spread.
“More testing enables us to identify patients who are infected and help them avoid spreading it to their friends, teachers, coaches, and family members, especially those loved ones with underlying risk factors that set them up for prolonged or severe illness,” Youngblood explained.
“COVID-19 is our common enemy,” Abuali said. “We must work together to get this virus under control.”
That involves embracing the 3 W’s: washing hands, wearing masks, and watching your distance.
“Studies have shown that wearing a mask protects you and others,’ Abuali explained. “Cloth masks can be as high as 85 percent effective in blocking virus particles.”
Beyond that, she said we all have to practice physical distancing.
“The CDC released a report detailing how indoor gatherings, including family get-togethers, are fueling the rapid rise in COVID-19 in our communities. I would urge parents to avoid indoor gatherings including during the holidays.”
She encourages families to avoid other indoor locations as well, to include gyms, bars, and indoor dining.
“The U.S. never overcame its first COVID-19 wave, and now the virus is rapidly spreading in many parts of the country with hospitals filling up and deaths rising. We have to come together to protect the most vulnerable people in our society,” Abuali said.
Part of that, she explained, is accepting our responsibility as adults to comply with public health guidance, specifically so that we can get our children back to school and our communities and businesses thriving again soon.
For families that feel like they are being punished as a result of COVID-19 health mandates, Youngblood said she can relate. “This whole thing just stinks. I feel like I am being punished right now, also.”
But that doesn’t change the behavior of this disease, she said.
“It will still infect, spread, and wreak havoc on the lives of many. So, we have a choice to make: do we ignore it and let it carry on or do we do the hard things to stop this microscopic enemy?”
Youngblood believes this is a chance to teach our children the important lessons of resilience, perseverance, and truly loving a neighbor — all of which starts with following public health guidelines, to include testing anyone in your home with symptoms, regardless of any “mom code” you may have been asked to join.