The coronavirus pandemic is causing a lot of uncertainty about a lot of things. Isolation and quarantining makes sense, but it's hard to figure out which location is considered an essential. And even if it is a place you can go, many are afraid and stressed to venture out. For parents, there's a huge worry about well-child checkups during this coronavirus pandemic. Can they still go see the doctor for a routine visit?
It's a fair question. On a good day, a pediatrician's office is packed full of exactly the type of germs and bacteria you don't want around your children, especially young babies. Sure, many doctors offer separate waiting rooms for sick kids, but that does little to make anxious mothers feel better, especially during a time like this.
On top of that, it's already been proven that kids and babies are not immune to COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus. A study of 2,000 infected children in China found that about 6% of them got seriously ill, and 60% of them were age 5 and under, while 40% of that group were infants under 12 months old. It's still true that COVID-19 affects older adults more than children, but this is an important message that young children are not out of the woods completely.
All of that being said: should you cancel your child's doctor appointment if it doesn't seem immediately necessary? In an email interview with Romper, Florida pediatrician Dr. Gary Kramer says, "I think it is important for people to realize that well-care should not be postponed, as there are many other aspects of pediatric care that must be addressed at given ages and development stages. Postponing this care will bring other consequences. I think that it's important to keep routine appointments."
He adds, "Children still need their immunizations, and parents have many questions regarding nutrition, development, and growth that are extremely important, especially during infancy." In other words: you may think the well visit isn't necessary, but doctors do need to check on your kids for things completely unrelated to coronavirus, especially infants. So, canceling might not be the best idea.
Still, before you go ahead with your appointment as planned, you should call the office. Dr. Cara Natterson, pediatrician and author of Decoding Boys, explains to Romper, "Some offices are only seeing healthy kids for a couple of hours a day, others have tried to find alternate spaces to see well children, and still others have moved to a model of mostly telemedicine with less frequent in-person visits." And don't be deterred if things seem hectic. Natterson adds, "Though the phone lines may be busy and you may have to hold for a little while before getting the question answered, definitely reach out to the office in advance of coming in. That’s the safest approach for everyone."
As for the office being clean, know that doctors and their team are likely doing everything they can. "So long as we implement best practices in our offices to maintain as sanitary an environment as is possible, we will be better for keeping our offices open," Kramer says. "We cannot control every cough, sneeze, and breathe, but we can effectively keep separate those who are well and those who are sick as best as possible."
Remember, doctors do not want you to get sick when you come to their office. "Our motto as physicians is to both 'do no harm' and to make sure that any risks we take are outweighed by the benefits," says Kramer. "I do believe that if we practice with compulsive attention to hygiene, we will be serving patients well by maintaining offices in which they can be seen."
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here, and Bustle’s constantly updated, general “what to know about coronavirus” here.
Dong Y, Mo X, Hu Y, Qi X, Jiang F, Jiang Z, Tong S. (2020) Epidemiological characteristics of 2143 pediatric patients with 2019 coronavirus disease in China. Pediatrics, https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/early/2020/03/16/peds.2020-0702.full.pdf
Dr. Gary Kramer, pediatrician
Dr. Cara Natterson, pediatrician and author of Decoding Boys