While schools are closed, the province has seen an increase in positive COVID-19 cases among teens and tweens, and one Kemptville doctor is sounding the alarm.
According to provincial data pulled by Dr. Suzanne Rutherford, lead doctor at the Kemptville COVID-19 assessment centre, the positivity rate among children nine to 13 was 5.5 per cent on Dec. 20, but that number jumped to 17.6 per cent by Jan. 6; among 14-to-17-year-olds it was 6.66 per cent on Dec. 20 and had more than doubled to 15.13 per cent by Jan. 6.
"In Leeds, Grenville and Lanark, we had an increase in the number of teens who developed COVID-19 (along with older age groups) linked to family dinners and parties over the December and January holiday period," confirmed Susan Healey, spokeswoman for the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit.
Rutherford said she started to see an increase among teens and tweens at the Kemtpville assessment centre over the holidays.
"While school was out we should have been seeing the rate dropping, which is not what’s happening," said Rutherford, who has teenagers of her own. "What I'm seeing in Kemptville is kids coming in for testing because they've had direct contact."
As Rutherford points out, teenagers and children generally understand that there is a pandemic going on and most of them want to help.
"They just need more reminders and it has to come from the parents, and I know that just having one friend over may seem safe, but it might not be and that's how this virus spreads," said Rutherford.
There are a number of ways parents can help children and teens make the right choices, according to the health unit.
These include having an open dialogue about why the rules are in place and the risks of close contact, including spreading the virus to loved ones and the health consequences, how they will have to undergo 14 days of isolation if they are deemed a "close contact" of someone who tests positive, and their social responsibility, said Healey.
"This spike among teens and tweens means that as parents we're making choices that are increasing the exposure rate," said Rutherford.
She said she appreciates the mental health toll that this pandemic and the lockdowns are having on both children and adults. Her suggestion is to take the health unit's advice and spend more time on outdoor activities where it's easier to maintain social distancing.
She also points out that children today are so plugged into the virtual world that there are lots of opportunities for them to stay connected in healthy ways online.
"The message I'm trying to get out is we need to get this virus under control so kids can go back to school, so there will be jobs for them in the summer, and we need a health care system that isn't overwhelmed so if a child has an accident they can be admitted quickly or if a parent is diagnosed with cancer they'll get the treatment they need," said Rutherford.
It's all the small decisions that families make that can help turn the tide on this pandemic, added Rutherford.
"So no, I'm not going to pick up your friend on the way to the outdoor rink; they can meet you there," said Rutherford.
She explains a car is a petri dish – it's too tight and confined a space with little air circulation to be a safe environment.
Other effective strategies, Healey said, could be asking for teens to help in finding ways to connect virtually with your friends and theirs, or getting a head start on making plans for fun ways to connect later this year when restrictions are lifted and the vaccine is widespread.
"Parents can encourage teens to be leaders and role models for their peer group – the more people who follow the rules, the easier it is to do so without feeling left out," said Healey.
Heddy Sorour, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brockville Recorder and Times