VIDEO: Navigating the Holidays During COVID-19, a LIVE Chat with Nemours Experts
A candid chat with a pediatrician, an infectious disease expert, and a child psychologist from Nemours.
We asked our Main Line Parent Community and Philly Family Community groups on Facebook to submit questions for this live roundtable discussion, which covered topics relevant to families with kids of all ages.
Meet the Experts:
Michelle Karten, MD is a general pediatrician and Physician in Charge at Nemours duPont Pediatrics, Villanova, and has been practicing medicine for nearly 20 years. She has a special interest in healthcare quality and safety, as well as disease prevention and making sure children get their vaccines.
Salwa Sulieman, DO is a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Sulieman has been a trusted source of information for parents in the Delaware Valley, especially in the context of keeping children safe during school re-openings and holiday gatherings.
Meghan Walls, PsyD is a pediatric psychologist with the Department of Behavioral Health at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, as well as a Legislative & Policy Advisor for the Nemours Department of External Affairs. In addition to seeing patients at Nemours, Dr. Walls advocates for policies that increase mental health resources in vulnerable communities, including expansion of telehealth.
This discussion was moderated by Sarah Bond, Founder and CEO of Family Focus Media, who publishes Main Line Parent and Philadelphia Family with her team. The following transcript has been edited for clarity.
Sarah Bond: Hello! I’m Sarah Bond, thank you for joining us! Today I am joined by three experts from Nemours Children’s Hospital to talk about ‘Navigating COVID-19 during the Holidays. So, if we could each go through and introduce ourselves, first I have Dr. Michelle Karten, Michelle can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your expertise?
Dr. Karten: Absolutely! Thank you. My name is Michelle Karten and I’ve been a General Pediatrician for 18 years and I’ve been at the Nemours Villanova site for the last eight and a half, and I’m really looking forward to this discussion tonight.
Sarah Bond: Next we have Dr. Salwa Sulieman.
Dr. Sulieman: Hi everybody, I’m Salwa Sulieman and I’m one of the pediatric infectious disease doctors at Nemours. I live in the Mount Airy area, close to where you all are located and I’m happy to be here with you.
Sarah Bond: Terrific. And next we have Dr. Meghan Walls.
Dr. Walls: Thanks for having me, I’m Meghan Walls, I’m a pediatric psychologist with Nemours and I work mostly in our Primary care clinics, so I work with a lot of our doc’s, making sure that we’re taking care of all the needs of our kiddos at Nemours, and I’m happy to be here with you!
Sarah Bond: Terrific. So when I put the question out to our Main Line Parent and Philly Family Communities, I asked, “If you had access to a pediatrician, an infectious disease expert, and a child psychologist from Nemours Children’s Health System, what questions would you ask in preparation for this year’s Holiday Season?” and the first question that I have is from Sara S. and she asks: “What’s the absolute safest way to see extended family this season? Is it testing and quarantining ahead of time? How long before? Or do they just NOT recommend travel/gathering it at ALL?” I’d love to hear your thoughts, Michelle do you want to start?
Dr. Karten: Sure, so I’ll do this in combination with Salwa because she has a strong background in infectious disease. The one thing that I will say, that I’ve found really helpful, as a Mom myself I’m also trying to navigate this. The CDC actually has some great recommendations on Holiday gatherings, so that’s one resource that families can refer to. There are a lot of different questions to weigh the risk for each family and considering the locations that family members are coming from [is important]. Some creative ideas that parents have told me, since we know being outside is safer, is hosting dinner outside, even hosting in a garage with the door open so you can have good ventilation. So Dr. Sulieman, what are some of the suggestions that you’ve made for families? I think the question here was the absolute most safe way to keep a family safe during the holidays, so I’ll let you tackle that part.
Dr. Sulieman: So, to give you a little more of my background, besides being a pediatric infectious disease doctor, I wear a mom-hat as well, I have two boys who are 7 and 9, and we have been thinking about the same things that you are. And it’s really tough. So, when you think about the science of the virus, the virus loves cold weather, it loves small gatherings. It loves when people don’t have their masks on. It really flourishes well in those situations and we’re seeing a big surge across the country, really in the Midwest part of the country, but also here, in the Philadelphia area. We have to be really careful and I would say the absolute safest way to maneuver the holidays is to NOT travel, and to NOT (unfortunately) celebrate the holidays with anybody outside of your immediate household. And I am the first person to say that is killer. It is REALLY tough to do. My kids miss their grandparents, we miss seeing our extended family and our friends who often celebrate with us. I understand. It’s not lost on me that it’s a hard thing to do. But that’s the safest way, unfortunately testing just tells you in that moment if you are negative for COVID-19. That doesn’t mean in 24 or 48 or 72 hours after that test, that for some reason you could convert over and then shed the virus. Also, you could shed the virus for about 48 hours before you have symptoms, which is very hard! No one knows — there’s all these unseen things that are hard to predict and it would just be horrible to have an event that spreads infection to everyone, so the safest thing I’m recommending for families is to celebrate with your immediate household.
Sarah Bond: Good to know. And Dr. Walls, how would you encourage parents to handle talking to their kids about this change?
Dr. Walls: It’s a great question. I’m lucky to have medical colleagues who give me the best medical information, so that I can take that information and translate it into how we talk to parents and kids. First, if you’re listening to this, you’re probably already ahead of the game because you’re thinking about the holidays. So have a conversation ahead of time, there are different risks for different families, but your family probably already knows what you’re comfortable with and what you’re thinking about doing, so talk to your children now. Have that conversation of “This is really hard, I’m sad too.” Let them feel those emotions, validate those emotions, and then talk about what you’re going to do. “Here’s what we’re going to do, we’re going to have just our family. Let’s talk about the three things that we’re really excited about doing with our family.” Focus on those positives. The other thing that I think is important is framing it as your kids and teens helping to keep people safe and helping to keep people healthy and having control. So how do we control the virus? Well, we can wash hands and wear masks and NOT have large family gatherings. So I think that preparing kids, sitting down to really talk about your exact plan [is important]. Not just “The Holiday will be different,” but “It’s just us,” or perhaps you live with part of your extended family, or as Dr. Karten mentioned, “We’re going to have an outside time when we’re getting together with folks at this time, but on Thanksgiving it’s going to be cold and we’re going to be inside with just our immediate family.” Kids and teens tend to be more resilient when we let them know what’s going to happen ahead of time. And I think for parents, let yourself grieve and mourn over this stuff, right? If you need to cry, or go on a run, or something to get that out, it’s okay! You’re allowed to be upset and frustrated! Dr. Sulieman mentioned, we’re moms, we get it! We all want to be with our families too! So we understand that this is difficult for everyone, but talking about it ahead of time, making plans and getting your kids or teens excited for the things you CAN do is way easier than focusing on what you CAN’T do.
Watch the video for the rest of this conversation where we address more questions from the Main Line Parent Community and Philly Family Community groups on Facebook
- Sarah B. asked “Do you have any advice for managing the guilt that comes with being the one who says “I’m so sorry, but we CAN’T” to family about holiday gatherings.”
- Isabel A. asked “How do you keep from transferring parents’ anxiety and/or depression after so many covid related changes to your children?”
- Maggie M. asked “How should those with newborns be handling their older kids’ school (virtual vs. in person) as well as visitors (extended family as well as friends) wanting to meet the baby during the colder months?”
- Monet R. asked “My child who has asthma will have more than 2 of the symptoms in the symptom checker most of the winter season. How we make sure he’s not being excluded from school and friends for having a documented chronic condition that’s not Covid.”
- Caroline S. asked about the accuracy of rapid testing (or other types of tests) and when to get tested/quarantine prior to seeing family (if you want to be indoors/without masks).
- Heather E. asked “For children not attending in person school ( preschool and grade) what activities are essential to add into our day for the social aspects they are missing?”
- Megan D. asked “If your child has a fever with few or no COVID symptoms, and no known COVID exposure, how many days are you realistically expected to quarantine at home (how many days after the last day of the fever)? I ask because toddlers seem to get fevers more or less constantly.”
- Amanda C. asked “How should those that have children going through cancer treatment handle this winter and the rest of the time COVID is around? Is there more of a concern when kids are on chemo versus not even if they have a history of cancer?”
- Melissa J. asked about outdoor youth sports and transmission rates.
- Susan T. asked “How safe are indoor sports? Especially safety for indoor swimming and basketball. Thinking about safety of both school teams or community intramural travel teams.”
- Michelle C. asked “How to deal with mental/emotional aspects (anxiety, depression, anger, talk of self-harm) as we head back to a time of isolation due to weather, surge, and potential restrictions/closures.”
- Angela F. asked “What’s your number one worry for kids this holiday season and how can parents address that concern effectively?”
Comment below with what YOU would ask these experts and join us for our next LIVE Conversation, (November 18th at 4:30 PM, stay tuned to our High Five Newsletter and our Philly Family Community group on Facebook for details.)