Kids, colds, and COVID: What you should know before school starts

Coronavirus

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — In the Pacific Northwest, cold season usually occurs in the winter months – specifically January, February, and March, according to the Oregon Health Authority. But in 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic threw respiratory syncytial viruses, or colds, off their regular course. 

“What we’re seeing across the country is a weird season for RSV,” said Dr. Ben Hoffman, a pediatrician and professor of pediatrics at Oregon Health and Science University’s Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. 

Hoffman said when people started to gather again in large groups earlier in the summer, viruses that had been subdued by masks and social distancing began to spread, leaving adults and children sick in the middle of summer. 

Now, as kids are preparing to go back to school, Hoffman said it will be difficult to tell the difference between cold symptoms and COVID-19 symptoms. 

“I think we’re going to need to pay attention to colds in a different way because we can’t just sit, we can’t just wave our hands and say, ‘Oh, this is just a cold,’ because it could be a COVID infection,” Hoffman said. 

Hoffman said kids who have a cold shouldn’t be more susceptible to contracting COVID-19. 

Another thing Hoffman is seeing happen is babies and toddlers getting sick later in their lives than they usually would. At this point, some toddlers have spent most of their lives isolating and socially distancing. Hoffman said putting kids in daycare now means some kids are catching their first colds at 18 months instead of nine months. 

He said their months spent in isolation does not mean they have weaker immune systems. 

“I think their immune systems are going to be just as strong as they need to be,” Hoffman said. “We didn’t see a lot of RSV and flu and colds last year. As kids are exposed to other kids. It’s going to happen.” 

He says masking and gathering restrictions will determine if cold season returns to its normal time. 

In addition to dealing with the cold, the number of children with COVID-19 has risen sharply in the past two months. Despite the growing number of cases, Hoffman said children are not more susceptible to the Delta variant of the virus. 

Instead, he said the spread of the virus among kids has more to do with how contagious the Delta variant is.

“In a community where there’s a very low immunization rate, and a high COVID rate, we’re seeing higher COVID rates, you know, positive rates in kids because they’re just being exposed more often,” Hoffman said.  

He said the Delta variant symptoms in kids haven’t been different from any other covid variant. He also said ICUs haven’t been filling up with kids in the same way they’re filling with adults. 

Hoffman said research shows COVID-19 isn’t transmitted as easily from kid to kid in schools. Instead, it’s often happening between kids and people in their community. He said wearing masks and washing hands can help prevent the spread of both COVID-19 and colds among kids.

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