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National

Kentucky Puts Measures In Place To Curb Rising Coronavirus Cases

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The list of states that are coronavirus hot spots is nearly as long as the list of states. They include Kentucky, which for many months did better than others. In response to a surge of cases now, Governor Andy Beshear has halted indoor dining and restaurants and K-12 schools are moving back to remote instruction. The education commissioner is Jason Glass.

JASON GLASS: It's really a choice among several bad options. Keeping in-person learning going with the rising level of community transmission rates is a bad option. Moving kids into an all-remote or virtual environment is a bad option. So we really don't have any good choices right now. The best thing that we can do is try and get our numbers down across the country and in Kentucky.

INSKEEP: Cases among children are rising in Kentucky. So let's discuss this with Dr. Elizabeth Hawes, a pediatrician at Commonwealth Pediatrics in Lexington, Ky. Good morning. Welcome to the program.

ELIZABETH HAWES: Thank you for having me.

INSKEEP: And it's always good to talk about the state where I went to college, although certainly not for this topic. Some people thought the virus would not really affect many children. Did that turn out to be wrong?

HAWES: It is turning out to be wrong. It doesn't affect children as much as it does adults or as frequently, it seems, as it does adults or as severely. But it does happen. And as pediatricians, we're seeing this rise in number of pediatric cases in our office. For a long time, like you said, during the beginning of this, Kentucky sort of locked down. And then we had the summer, and we were getting sporadic calls about people who had been exposed or sporadic positive cases. But over the past few weeks, we are seeing more and more kids calling the office. They've been exposed or family members exposed and more and more positive cases. And we've had several children in the past couple of weeks ill with COVID.

INSKEEP: Does the age of the child make a difference in the risk that they may face?

HAWES: It does. It does. The further you get toward adulthood, toward that age of high school age or above, the more typical kids' symptoms are, what we think of shortness of breath, fever, more likely to be hospitalized. Infants and young children seem like they have a milder course.

INSKEEP: Well, now you must see a lot of kids in the office who are testing positive at this point. How well do kids tend to handle that news?

HAWES: You know, I've been most impressed, and any pediatrician will tell you this job keeps you young and it makes you really optimistic for the next generation. But the children that have been positive have been more worried about their parents or their grandparents than they seem to be about themselves. And it is really just amazing to watch them. They're so concerned about who was I around in my extended family or my immediate family that's at risk?

INSKEEP: And wow, that's really quite touching because, of course, if you're a small kid, you can't really quarantine. Somebody has to take care of you. You just can't separate yourself the way that an adult might. And you may well spread it to somebody else.

HAWES: That's correct. And, you know, I think that's what the education commissioner is sort of getting out there. You know, children, by definition, need adults to care for them. And so, you know, the schools, as has been said many times, don't exist in a vacuum. There are adults in the schools that take care of them and adults at their home or their grandparents that are taking care of them. So when we get this widespread community spread, it's difficult to control the cases in the schools.

INSKEEP: How do you see the balance that the education commissioner discussed, though? Because as we have been reminded many times in recent months, it's certainly harmful for kids to get COVID. It's certainly harmful for kids to spread the coronavirus, but it can also be damaging for many kids to stay home.

HAWES: Yes. And I agree with him. There really is no good option. You know, I think everyone, for our mental health, wishes we could go back to a year ago when this wasn't an issue. But this is an issue, and there are very few options that serve both a child's academic health and their social health and their physical health. I see that as one Venn diagram with none of the circles touching right now. There's really not a great option. And we've got to get the community spread down so that they can go back to school.

INSKEEP: Well, it's hard to see that happening before next school year, isn't it?

HAWES: It is. It is. And it really is up to us adults. You know, it appears that it's the adults in our community. And maybe I'm a pediatrician, so I always blame the adults. That's what my patients would say. But it seems like the kids are really compliant with mask wearing and social distancing as much as you can expect them to be. And it's up to us adults not to overwhelm our health care system because that's when you start to see the rates of death from COVID go up. If your hospitals are full, then eventually, instead of an adult critical care physician caring for you, you're going to get me who has not cared for an adult since 1996. And that is never as good a care as you would normally get.

INSKEEP: What is one thing that a parent could do to get through this winter?

HAWES: You know, in our own family, I have three kids and I've told our kids our goals this year are to pass all of our classes, to keep ourselves mentally healthy and to not get COVID. And I think it's being realistic about your goals. You know, we're not going to probably make great leaps and bounds academically this year. And that's got to be OK. We've got to give one another some grace. We are living through a pandemic.

INSKEEP: Dr. Elizabeth Hawes at Commonwealth Pediatrics in Lexington, Ky., thank you so much.

HAWES: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.