When COVID protective measures were in full swing, families who stayed healthy realized a side benefit: Cases of strep throat, respiratory viruses, flu and ear infections decreased among children, likely due to social distancing and masking.
Katie Lockwood, a pediatrician at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, said parents got used to a new normal in which kids were not experiencing the typical "eight to 10 colds a year."
"We just had a little break," she said.
That's no longer the case. On Tuesday, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and Children's Hospital Association (CHA) asked the Biden Administration to declare a national emergency. The groups cited an "alarming surge" in pediatric RSV and flu cases, and an ongoing mental health crisis among kids — all of which is overwhelming children's hospitals.
"Our system is stretched to its limit and without immediate attention, the crisis will only worsen," said Mark Wietecha, CEO of the Children's Hospital Association.
As respiratory virus cases surge among kids in Philly region, children's hospitals filling up with 'young babies that are struggling to breathe'
Lockwood said parents need to "follow their gut instinct" when their children get sick. To assess when a child needs emergency medical attention, she urged caregivers to look for signs of dehydration, including if their child hasn't urinated at least three times within 24 hours, or respiratory distress, such as breathing more than 60 times in a minute.
"The majority of kids who get these illnesses are treated at home, or in primary care, and are not admitted to the hospital," Lockwood said.
In Villanova, Mitchell wants to see schools taking protective measures. She has launched a petition, "Cleaner Air at LMSD Schools," urging her Lower Merion district to place carbon dioxide (CO2) monitors and HEPA filters, or "high efficiency particulate air [filter]," in every classroom. As of Tuesday afternoon, the petition had 254 signatures.
She explained the motivation isn't just about keeping kids from getting sick. She worries about the economic impact on working parents, especially ones with hourly paying jobs, and that kids will continue to fall behind academically.