The coronavirus has changed daily life for everyone, but Jefferson Regional Pediatrician Joann Mays, M.D., says we shouldn’t let it interfere with our children’s healthcare.
“I want parents in our community to know that the Children’s Clinic is open and can safely accommodate the needs of our patients,” says Dr. Mays. “The fear created by COVID-19 has been keeping patients out of physician offices, and children need to be seen by their physician on a regular basis.”
Nationwide, pediatricians have seen a sharp decline in office visits, and Pine Bluff is no different. “As you can imagine, we’ve also experienced a great decline in the number of patients we’re seeing every day. We saw this emerging in April, and since that time we’ve had fewer patients than we’ve ever seen in this clinic,” says Dr. Mays. “However, the month of June is seemingly on the uphill side, so that encourages me. Even in light of the coronavirus, children still need to be immunized against all of the deadly diseases they are prone to get.”
In order to keep everyone healthy, the Children’s Clinic has implemented a number of safety measures designed to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19. “The biggest change that has occurred in our clinic is that in the past, both parents have been allowed to come in with their children, and now it’s a situation where only one parent can come in. Of course wearing a mask is a requirement for all children two years of age and older, which I think is a good thing. The other change is that families are having to stay outside until they are called because our goal is to make sure we practice safe distancing.”
In some cases, virtual office visits are also available. “We do PCMH, which stands for Patient Centered Medical Home,” Dr. Mays explains. “We use it primarily for patients who have chronic diseases such as asthma, sickle cell disease, diabetes, and the ADHD patients we see every six months. The goal is to make sure these patients are not using the emergency room for all of their healthcare needs. For routine physicals and of course sick visits, we haven’t used telemedicine as much.”
There have been far fewer cases of COVID-19 in children than adults, and Dr. Mays says there have been no positive patients at the Children’s Clinic. “I’ve seen a few from a distance, you could say, and they were cases where the parents had it, but they did not come into the clinic, they called. Then I’ve seen a few children in the clinic where there were some concerns about their fever, and I went through the proper channels and had them swabbed, and none of them have had it.”
With school starting soon and the question of traditional versus virtual school, Dr. Mays supports getting kids back into the classroom. “I am truly in agreement with the American Academy of Pediatrics which is pushing toward kids going back to school. We know there are some challenges, but studies show that if proper precautions are taken, they will be fine. Parents who have children with immunocompromised systems should perhaps consider something else, but studies show children just don’t do as well with the virtual school. They need the behavioral interaction and the socialization that goes along with that.”
Even though parents try to shield their children from negative things, even preschoolers can tell something is wrong, and older kids have probably heard disturbing things about the virus that is going around. So how should parents talk with their children about COVID-19?
“What I tell parents is to let their children know this is a serious disease and for now we all have to be compliant with safe distancing, wearing masks when we are out and washing our hands frequently. But it can also be an opportunity to find some things they can do outside, maybe fishing, maybe spending more time with immediate family, instead of staying inside playing video games. We recognize that for a lot of children this is very difficult and very challenging. Maybe this is a time to get back to the basics, like reading books.”
Despite the continued presence of the virus, Dr. Mays remains optimistic. “I think we will continue to see an increase in the number of patients coming in. With school starting, many of them are going to have to have their immunizations because not everyone is going to have virtual school. I’m also hopeful that the coronavirus vaccine is just around the corner, and maybe by the first of the year we are going to see that vaccine in place, even if it takes two visits to be completely vaccinated.”
Another thing she is optimistic about is the plan to build a new Arkansas Children’s Hospital clinic in Pine Bluff. “I think it’s going to change things dramatically and I think it’s a good thing for the community,” Dr. Mays says. “For those of us who are older and whose time is nearly expiring, it’s good to know that children in this community will still have quality physicians to take care of them. We all want our children to get the best care possible.”