'Zooming' In On COVID-19 | Health's Up

Mrs. McClusky and some of her class from Saints Robert and William Catholic School in Euclid give a thumbs up during a Zoom session with Health's Up team members, Anna Huntsman (top left) and host Kristi Westphaln (top center). [Anna Huntsman / ideastream]
Mrs. McClusky and some of her class from Saints Robert and William Catholic School in Euclid give a thumbs up during a Zoom session with Health's Up team members, Anna Huntsman (top left) and host Kristi Westphaln (top center). [Anna Huntsman / ideastream]
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When it comes to health, it isn’t always easy for kids and families to navigate the facts. That’s why we created “Health’s Up,” a podcast that explores healthy choices through kids’ voices. The show is hosted by pediatric nurse practitioner Kristi Westphaln.

You’ve probably heard about the coronavirus pandemic on the news at some point during the past few months. The odds of experiencing a pandemic of this magnitude are once in one hundred years, and we are in it. This can be overwhelming to think about. Ella from Mrs. McCluskey’s fifth grade class at Saints Robert and William Catholic School in Euclid agreed.

“How is it possible for it to be able to end when people are going to do what they keep doing and they’re going to get near each other? Doesn’t that mean that it will just spread quicker and continue growing?” she asked.

The virus causing the pandemic is a type of novel, or new, coronavirus named SARS-CoV-2. The disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus is what we know now as COVID-19.

What exactly makes a disease a pandemic? And how has COVID-19 spread all over the world? To learn more, the kids in Mrs. McClusky’s class Zoomed with Dr. Shanina Knighton, a Nurse Scientist and infection preventionist in Cleveland.

One student, Lauren, shared some thoughts on how people might become infected with the virus.

 “When someone else coughs, or when you touch something that another person touched that may have the coronavirus, and then you touch your face or something,” she said.

She’s right. The coronavirus spreads through respiratory droplets that are released when we cough, sneeze, or even talk to each other at a close distance.

Knighton said while the coronavirus can be passed through the air, there’s less risk of catching it if you are outside.

“If you’re walking outside, just in public, you cannot just ‘catch’ the coronavirus,” she said. “When they did the study and said that it was airborne, or it can travel through air, meaning the droplets, it was done in an ICU, or in a closed setting.”

Protecting yourself

Knighton said wearing a mask when you’re inside public spaces, like grocery stores, is a really good idea. There are several different types of masks that can help protect us, including cloth masks, surgical masks, and even N95 masks – which are specifically fitted for your face. In certain counties in Ohio, masks are mandatory in public spaces.

Masks are helpful because if you cough or sneeze, it can prevent spreading your respiratory droplets and protect other people from catching your germs.

It’s also important to consider that there are a lot of people who may have cancer or other types of health conditions where their immune system may be compromised. Wearing a mask can not only protect you, but help protect other people too.

 “You may very well see people out with them on, or with them off, and I just want to say be kind. Because everyone has their own reasons for why they are wearing them or why they aren’t wearing them,” said Knighton.

Kristi wears N-95 mask

Health's Up host Kristi Westphaln shows the kids her N95 mask, which is specifically fitted for her face.

Mask or no mask, there are lots of things we can do to protect ourselves from getting the coronavirus. Perhaps the most important one is something you probably already do every day: washing your hands!

To prevent yourself from getting COVID-19, Knighton recommends washing your hands frequently throughout the day for 20 to 25 seconds, with soap and water if possible. If you aren’t near a sink, use hand sanitizer, and don’t forget to include your thumbs, wrist and the back of your hands.

Science of epidemiology

Along with being curious about the coronavirus, the kids from Mrs. McClusky’s class wanted to learn more about how science can help us to understand how diseases occur, and how to prevent them. The science of epidemiology does just that. If our expert epidemiologists can figure out how the coronavirus disease started and track its symptoms, they can develop treatments and prevention strategies.

One thing experts have been calling for is flattening the curve. When we talk about the curve, we mean what the graph looks like when you plot the number of COVID-19 cases. When we don’t take preventative measures (which means more people are becoming infected with COVID-19), the curve of the graph starts to look steep. Mykaelin and Ella had some ideas on how to flatten this curve.

“After you come out of the store and you’ve been touching everything, and you don’t have gloves on, make sure as soon as you get back in the car, you have wipes or hand sanitizer, (and) put some of that on until you get home so you can wash your hands,” Mykaelin said.

“Social distance from people; stay six feet away from everyone,” Ella said.

Handwashing and staying physically distant from others definitely helped flatten the curve here in Ohio, and kept Ohio hospitals from becoming too crowded and overwhelmed.

Reopening questions and strategies

Now, as businesses are reopening in Ohio, Dean, Ella and Tristan had some advice for how stores could do so safely:

“Make sure people, when they go in the pools or gyms, they wear special masks,” Dean said. “They could also make sure when you get in, (you) wash your hands, and when you go out to wash your hands.”

“Limit five people to the pool or the gym at a time, so not massive crowds of people are going in at once,” Ella suggested.

“There should always be one person there to keep everything sanitary,” Tristan said.

These are good strategies, many of which businesses are already employing.

Speaking about re-opening, there’s another really important one that could be happening soon: schools! The Health’s Up team got a great question about this from Gabby:

“I wanted to know what precautions are we going to use when we go back to school?” she asked.

Thanks for calling us with your question, Gabby. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine said he wants kids to return to school in-person, and as of right now, it will be up to individual school districts to decide on specific rules. Ohio State Superintendent for Public Education Paolo DeMaria said there are some pretty key things for students to expect.

“You might have to wash your hands more often. That’s a simple thing,” DeMaria said. “We all do that every day, and that’s something the adults might ask you to do more often. They might say you have to keep some distance from some other kids.”

DeMaria also said that back to school may include wearing masks and physical distancing in the classroom by moving desks in the classroom farther apart. There could also be some changes to common activities where people sit close together, such as lunchtime.

“You might have situations where you eat lunch in your class. Or, you might eat lunch maybe a little bit later or a little bit earlier because there’s gonna be fewer people in the lunchroom. And everybody moving around in the hallway at the same time, that’s probably going to be different too, because that creates a condition that isn’t particularly healthy or careful,” he said.

Every school is different, and it will be up to the local superintendents and staff to decide what rules will be in place when you go back, DeMaria said.

Dealing with the psychological toll of the pandemic

It’s clear that our daily lives are going to be different for quite some time until the pandemic is under control. This can cause some uncertainty, and even anxiety.

Along with learning about how the coronavirus impacts our physical health, the fifth graders from Saints Robert and William School shared that they all have been experiencing a lot of emotions during the pandemic.

Dr. Elizabeth Benninger is a clinical psychologist and researcher from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. She spoke to the kids in Mrs. McCluskey’s class about anxiety. She first asked what they thought that word means. Here’s Izzy:

“It’s like, when you kind of get mad over something that’s really either hard to do, or like you have a lot of stuff to do, you just feel really like you need a break from it,” she said.

On point, Izzy. Benninger said anxiety is when you feel overwhelmed and can’t seem to make those feelings stop.

“We often get it when things are unknown. So for example, right now, we don’t really know when the coronavirus pandemic is going to pass, and when it’s going to end, or how exactly it’s spread, and there’s a lot of mixed information out there so not having the right information can make us feel really anxious,” she said.

The pandemic has made many of us feel like we don’t have control over the situation, which can cause even more negative emotions, she said.

“When we feel like we’ve lost control, it makes us often feel these emotions that aren’t so nice to feel,” Benninger said. “So even though it’s normal to feel them right now, we have to try and find things that can help us feel better. It’s important not to judge those feelings or not to think that there’s something wrong with you.”

Ella plays with cat

Ella shows off her cat during a Health's Up Zoom session. Playing with pets is a great way to relieve anxious feelings.

So what are some strategies we can use to help make ourselves feel better when we are feeling sad, anxious or depressed? Izzy and Raegen get a little help from their family members and furry friends.

“I just play with my dogs because they are really funny, and they always chase each other around,” Izzy said.

Raegan holding pet

Raegan shows off her pet during a Health's Up Zoom session. She says playing with her dogs helps her to de-stress.

“I call my cousin and we FaceTime for a little bit,” Raegan said. “And usually my dogs will come in my room and just lay in there with me.”

And Benninger loves having dance parties with her son.

“Listening to music and moving our bodies is good for our physical health, but it also makes our minds feel healthy,” she said. “My son and I take turns picking our favorite song, and then we dance around the house very silly to the song, and always feel a lot better afterwards.”

Health's Up team and kids have virtual dance party

The kids have a virtual dance party with Health's Up team members and Dr. Elizabeth Benninger from University Hospitals. Dancing is a great way to make both our bodies and minds feel better.

Other students mentioned having adventures outdoors and cooking with their families as ways that they like to de-stress. Those are all awesome ideas that help to remind us that despite the changes and challenges from the pandemic, life isn’t cancelled.

All in all, the coronavirus has disrupted our daily lives and the world we live in today. It’s changed how we interact with each other, and how we do normal activities like grocery shopping, hanging out with friends, and going to school. Moving forward, it’s important to know the facts about the virus and understand how to keep yourself and your family safe and healthy. It’s also crucial to find ways to ease anxious feelings you might have during this time.

From exam room, to classroom, to newsroom, to Zoom rooms, we know that healthy habits matter.   

Be in the know, stay healthy, and grow!   

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