Many Alameda County students are headed back to school this month and parents are balancing keeping their children healthy and safe while managing their educational, social and emotional needs amidst an evolving pandemic.

While the risk of COVID-19 causing severe illness and hospitalization is much lower for children than adults, children are not immune. In addition, long-term adverse health effects even after mild infection in children are now being recognized.

Dr. Pamela-Simms Mackey, Chair of Pediatrics and Chief of Graduate Medical Education

“COVID-19 turned children’s lives upside down, with remote schooling, cancelled playdates and missed wellness exams, children’s routines were anything but routine. These changes can be challenging for students and can affect their emotional and mental wellbeing,” said Dr. Pamela-Simms Mackey, Chair of Pediatrics and Chief of Graduate Medical Education

According to Simms-Mackey, some signs that children’s mental health is being impacted include increased irritability, clinginess, and fear, and many may have issues with sleeping and poor appetite. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) developed a resource kit for parents to learn about challenges young people may be experiencing due to COVID and how they can help.

“We know some students may be struggling to manage their feelings about the pandemic and may be worried about getting sick or falling behind in school. Regardless of what’s on their mind, parents should keep track of what they’re seeing and help students get the emotional support they need,” said Simms-Mackey.

Simms-Mackey added communication is key and points out kids may have questions about COVID that should be addressed with age-appropriate answers that don’t fuel the flame of anxiety. She said it may help to discuss and role model things they can control, like hand washing, social distancing, and other health-promoting behavior like getting vaccinated if eligible.

“We know getting the COVID-19 vaccine is one of the best ways we can prevent hospitalization and death. It’s understandable that parents question whether to vaccinate now or wait, but with the rise of the more contagious Delta variant just as students head back to in-person learning, it is even more important to follow the CDC recommendation that all children ages 12 year and older get vaccinated,” said Simms-Mackey.

The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective and benefits far outweigh side effects. While the risk of severe illness and hospitalization due to COVID is much lower in children than adults, deaths from COVID in children have been reported.

At Alameda Health System students 12 years and older can receive vaccine at Highland Hospital by calling 510-437-8500 and making an appointment or by dropping in from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Saturday.

In addition to getting vaccinated students should be reminded to keep six feet distance between them and others, wear a mask, clean hands often and stay home if they’re sick. More information about what to expect as students head back to school or daycare is available on the CDC website and check with your student’s schools for specific guidelines and protocols.