Covid-19 update: “Schools present the same challenges that any large gatherings do.”

On Tuesday leaders of Yale New Haven Health System held a press teleconference call with a bi-monthly update on Covid-19.

Dr. Tom Balcezak, chief medical officer, said Connecticut should be proud for having stemmed the spread of the virus. There were only 15 Covid positive patients in the system on Tuesday and only 3 people in ICUs: 7 in New Haven, 5 in Bridgeport, 2 in Greenwich, 1 at Lawrence + Memorial in New London and 0 at Westerly Hospital in Rhode Island.

The health system has done 140,000 tests to date and discharged more than 3,600 healthy patients.

Sadly there have been a total of 581 deaths, though only one death in the previous 10 days.

“It’s in the hands of our citizens to do social distancing, mask wearing and hand hygiene – and avoiding large gatherings,” he said. “That’s the new one we need to focus on. We can get through this. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Still Dr. Balcezak said last week the Yale Center for Clinical Investigation, in partnership with Pfizer, started phase three of a vaccine trial in New Haven. Some patients receive a placebo and some will receive the vaccine. The hope is the vaccine will prevent the disease.

With schools set to reopen in a few weeks, Balcezak was asked how concerned parents should be about children getting, spreading or falling ill from Covid-19.

“All age groups can get it and spread it,” he said. “There is no immunity in any age group.”

Balcezak said while children have some special complications from Covid-19, they don’t have the same mortality rate as older patients.

“Children can contract the disease,and spread it to their parents, grandparents and others around them who are much more susceptible to severe complications and death,” he continued, adding that a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics and Children’s Hospital Association found that 97,000 US children tested positive in the last two weeks of July.

“This was not a surprise,” Balcezak said. “We always knew it could spread among children. …It travels in kids. Kids don’t see the same level of illness or death.”

Balcezak said there was both a shortage of tests and a bias to testing  fewer children who might have had sniffles or coughs or fevers – common symptoms among children – so children might not have gotten tested with the frequency of adults with similar symptoms.

As for impact on school opening, Balcezak said, “Schools present the same challenges that any large gatherings do.”

However, he said lack of education can impact children’s development and socialization. “That has to be balanced,” he said.

Balcezak said 40 patients had been admitted with MIS-C, the rare inflammatory syndrome in children and teens that is associated with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, but that the last patient had recently been discharged and all have done well.

Reflecting on life during Covid-19, Balcezak said, “I think people are getting tired.”

The health system has endured many disasters, but Covid-19 has been unique in its length. Back on February 9 the health system declared a Code D disaster which continued for months. The first patient was admitted on March 8. Cases peaked on April 21.

“The challenge now is everyone is hoping for that vacation – to be able to visit parents and grandparents, and getting on with their lives. The challenge is there is no getting on with your life. There is no going back to the way it was.”