As government strategizes on the most effective way of getting South African children back to school, Dr Boshoff Steenekamp, epidemiologist at leading financial services and health provider, Momentum, outlined the true risks for our children based on global statistics, and the biology of Covid-19 as it affects children in South Africa.
He was speaking at a Momentum Covid-19 webinar recently, one in a series of webinars aiming to assist South Africans in dealing with the pandemic.
According to Steenekamp, children are significantly less affected than adults, accounting for only 1% of the global infection rate, with deaths being extremely rare. These are reassuring stats considering the government’s decision to reopen some grades on 1 June.
“Fortunately, we know that children are less likely to get Covid-19, and if they do, they get a very mild form. It is also very unlikely that children will spread the disease to others” said Steenekamp.
He showed that multiple European family clusters were unlikely to be the index case (the first identified case in a group of related cases). In fact, his data cited a family in France where an infected child did not transmit the disease to anyone, despite being exposed to over 100 people.
Steenekamp concluded that infection and transmission rates in children happen less often and are less severe, but he cautions parents from letting these statistics embolden them with a false sense of security. Safety measures such as wearing masks, constant sanitisation and adhering to social distancing still need to be strictly exercised. He also warned that these statistics do not apply to children with underlying diseases, which renders them more vulnerable to the disease.
Joining Steenekamp was educational psychologist, Dr Matentjie who shared her key insights into the psychological challenges that children may face as a result of the nationwide lockdown.
These included the likes of secondary stress emanating from parents, disruption of routine, less socialisation and even the fact that parents have now become teachers too.
“As a parent you are the expert on your child's development and how they adjust to change and pressure,” said Matentjie. “You are a first responder when it comes to facilitating their emotional, psychological and mental wellbeing, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.”
In order to keep a close eye on a child’s mental stability, Matentjie has provided a helpful list of behaviours to watch out for, including self-harm, acting out, loss of interest and even night terrors. Once these behaviours are identified, Matentjie guided viewers through a five-step process which include:
- Awareness of the problem
- Understanding of the problem
- Regulation around how to correct the problem
- Correction of the problem