TAMPA, Fla. — With the start of the school year just days away now, health officials are keeping a close eye on COVID-19 numbers.
“It’s going to spread and probably like wildfire,” said Dr. David Berger, Board Certified Pediatrician for Wholistic Pediatrics and Family Care.
“I believe there’s going to be a pretty good bump in the number of cases that we’re seeing when kids go back to school,” said Dr. Thomas Unnasch, Distinguished USF Health Professor.
The concern isn’t just about who catches it but how sick people will get.
“The virus doesn’t cause as much disease in kids, which is a benefit,” said Dr. Michael Teng, Virologist and Association Professor for USF Health.
It’s a different story for adults who don’t have any immunity.
“We’re going to see quite a few cases being brought home to mom and dad,” said Unnasch.
That’s why federal health officials are urging everyone to stay up to date on their vaccines.
The vaccination rates for kids are much lower than they’d hoped.
The latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show only 30.3% of kids ages 5-11 are fully vaccinated, and 60.2% of kids ages 12-17 are fully vaccinated.
“Most of the kids have not been vaccinated,” said Unnasch.
This is especially worrisome because the omicron subvariant BA.5 is the dominant strain, and it’s the most infectious mutation to date.
“Everybody is going to get exposed to this,” said Unnasch.
Experts think the start of the school year will only fuel the spread.
“We’re not going to have any mask mandates or anything in the schools, so the kids are just going to be out doing their kid thing, which is spreading viruses amongst themselves,” said Unnasch.
“If they keep transmitting the virus, the virus is going to keep figuring out a way around our immune system, and then it’s going to get back out into the population, into those vulnerable populations,” said Teng.
Doctors believe there are some things parents can do to keep their kids healthy.
They recommend talking to their child’s pediatrician about giving them vitamin D, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids.
“People who have good vitamin D and zinc levels are protected against severity of viruses and even catching them,” said Berger.
He recommends that parents should make sure their kids are getting enough sleep.
“We know how important sleep is. Kids, especially older kids, high schoolers, do not get enough sleep. If we don’t have good rest, that’s going to decrease our ability to fight,” said Berger.
Avoiding processed foods can also help kids stay healthy, according to Berger.
“We know with COVID-19, it’s not just the infection, but the inflammation that’s causing people to get more sick than they might otherwise. There are certain foods that are more triggering for inflammation. A lot of processed foods, a lot of high sugary foods,” he said.
“There are foods that we know are able to help out with inflammation more and that’s eating lots of fruits and vegetables, the bioflavonoids, the vitamins the minerals in there. In particular, broccoli and broccoli sprouts,” Berger added.
“These are all things that can help the body be optimal for fighting off infections and fighting off severity,” he said.
Health officials believe it’s crucial that if a child does have any COVID-19 symptoms, they stay home from school.
“We don’t want to be getting an entire classroom sick and the teachers sick,” said Berger.
“Testing is going to play a pretty important role. I would hope that parents will start testing their kids, and if their child shows up positive, they will hold them out from school,” said Unnasch.