Barrington Pediatrician on Keeping Kids Healthy as Coronavirus Spreads in Illinois

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The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Illinois jumped by 296 Sunday, bringing the total number of cases to at least 1,049 in our state. Health officials say we can expect that number to grow and continue to urge that we keep ourselves, kids and families home as much as possible during this time.

As a mother-of-three I have many questions about coronavirus as it relates to our kids, especially as we do our best to keep them happy and learning at home. So I did what I always do when I have kids’ health concerns. I called our pediatrician, Dr. Mary Collins, a life-saver in times of parental uncertainty. Here’s what she shared…

What changes are you making in your Lake Barrington office, Pediatric Specialists of the Northwest, because of coronavirus?

As you know, we are facing unprecedented times with many unknowns. As society as we know it shuts down around us, we want everyone to know that we are still here for our patients. But we also want to do our part to help slow the spread of coronavirus. As of March 17th we made some changes to our office scheduling. We’ve eliminated our walk-in sick clinic on Saturdays until further notice. We are saving our morning appointments for well check-ups only. Afternoons and Saturdays are for sick visits, by appointment only. By taking these precautions, we will be able to continue to take care of all our patients and minimize risk of illness exposure.

To your knowledge, have any children in our area tested positive? Do you expect that to change?

There have not been any pediatric cases reported in Barrington or Crystal Lake, at our two offices. The only pediatric case I’m aware of around us is a 3-year-old in Bartlett who is at home in self quarantine and was never hospitalized.

One of the things our patients are asking is about symptoms. Children, when they get COVID-19, may not have the exact symptoms we’re telling everyone to watch for. For that reason, they’re probably not going to be diagnosed. The suggestion is that possibly children are not going to run a fever. If they don’t have a fever they’re going to run under the radar because we all have the same rulebook as far as who gets swabbed. Children have much milder symptoms. They may look like the common cold.

Kids with comorbidities, the presence of one or more additional conditions like cancer or an autoimmune disorder, these are the kids who may get looked at by a tertiary center. For now, we’re just treating symptoms like we always do, unless there is a known exposure to an adult or another child that changes the rulebook.

If you are concerned about symptoms, I would tell parents not to do anything different than they normally would. Call your family’s pediatrician for guidance before bringing your child to the doctor.

Do we expect to see patients testing positive in our area? Absolutely. It’s not a question of if, but when. But I think that the precautions that in particular Illinois has made will definitely help everyone, including children.

We’ve read that drive-through testing has been suspended at hospitals like ours in Barrington due to a shortage of testing kits. 

It’s more than the kits. It’s the shortage of masks, gloves and all of the armor and gear that is needed. Protective equipment is not completely absent right now but they’re trying to ration it and spread it out, at least that’s what I’ve heard about these drive-in testing centers operating in the Chicago area.

What does a continued shortage of tests and protective gear mean for your practice? How are you preparing for cases here?

For us, transitioning to telemedicine is a significant shift. That’s a call between a family and their doctor instead of an office visit. Sometimes it’ll be a regular phone call and other times it’ll be a FaceTime call.

That face-to-face option is really valuable because children, depending on their age, may or may not be able to define how they feel. If I’m going to prescribe medicine without seeing a child, which I haven’t done in 36 years, FaceTime is going to be so important because looking at a child experiencing symptoms is such an important part of the exam.

Telemedicine will become a much bigger part of what we offer, not just with us locally but how patients are treated globally. It’s the way practicing medicine is going to be for a while.

The current expiration of the Shelter in Place order for Illinois residents is April 7th. Based on what we’re hearing in the news, it seems that may be extended. Do you think that is likely? 

I know at least that the local government, including Governor Pritzker and Mayor Lightfoot, are not being grandiose by saying months and months. I think they’re waiting to see a leveling off in cases. Everything that’s getting diagnosed now has been incubating for weeks. With the ‘stay at home’ measures that were put in place Saturday at 5pm, I know it’s going to take several weeks to a month to see the benefit of that or the lack thereof.

With kids home from school for this extended period, what steps can we take to keep them healthy?

In addition to getting enough rest, exercise and frequent hand washing, cleaning the screens on their devices is really important. Antibacterial wet wipes are awesome if you can find them. You can also use spray hand sanitizers for phones, iPads and other screens. It’s a good practice to do it morning and night. If you go somewhere I recommend you have hand sanitizer in the car for both kids and adults.

I also think everybody needs to get outside at least twice a day to get some fresh air and reset, even with a quick walk around the block. Otherwise the kids are just plugged into screens all day and that’s what you don’t want.

When you’re inside try to spend more time with classic activities like the big crossword puzzle and board games which are novel because kids today spend so much time on their screens. Whether it’s Chutes & Ladders or Monopoly, break out a game to provide a new form of fun for the family.

Terms like “social distancing” and “shelter in place” have become part of our new vocabulary. It feels like people are becoming more afraid to leave the house. Is this an overreaction?

I think that people really should embrace the reality of this situation and not feel that anyone is being overreactive.

Avoiding unnecessary trips out is a good idea but so is creating rewards for your children. They need as much structure as possible during the day but plan to get them out of the house to places where you’ll encounter few people. You can even make little day-trips in the car a reward for the kids like heading to the city to take a drive along the lakefront, though you’ll need to pack lunches or otherwise plan accordingly.

What about play dates and spring break travel. Should we call it all off until further notice? 

This first week everyone has been super careful but we also have to be realistic as time goes on. There’s going to come a point where, under controlled circumstances and with complete knowledge of the other family, there’s going to be reason to allow stuff like playdates and letting your kids play outside with a friend.

Because this time away from school may be extended, keeping the kids away from all friends for so long is going to be hard on them. If your child has one friend where you know the family well and nobody has traveled and everybody is healthy I think that’s ok. Unsupervised situations, overnights or travel with another family wouldn’t feel good to me, but I think it’ll be ok to have a playdate with a close friend and a family you trust.

As far as travel is concerned, with the risk factors in airports, especially for children with signifiant medical issues, I don’t think air travel right now is wise. If your kids are very healthy and you can jump in a car and travel to a place that’s less densely populated that’s a different story. If you’re going to stay in an Airbnb, head to the beach or pool and cook at home at night, there’s nothing wrong with that. You just have to remember that most of the public attractions have closed and weather can be unpredictable so you might be stuck inside no matter where you’re headed.

Is there anything that you know today that has you feeling optimistic?

I feel like everybody’s doing the best they can right now and I think all the things that have been decided in Illinois are good things. Restricting access to restaurants, bars, shops, big gatherings and public places, we have to do this for a period of time to see if we can get this virus under control. But it’s going to take longer than two weeks.

And remember that coronavirus is as old as the hills. It’s been around for fifty years. It’s on a respiratory panel that we test when kids go into the hospital. When this mutation happened it was interesting to me that, from the beginning, sources were saying that maybe kids had this partial immunity because that particular cousin of the mutation has been a pediatric germ just like RSV and Rhinovirus. Whether that is true or false remains to be seen. I know the hope is that kids will be able to nail this.

One of seven doctors with Pediatric Specialists of the Northwest, Dr. Mary Collins joined the practice 36 years ago in 1984.

Dr. Mary received her B.A. in Biology, graduating Summa Cum Laude from Loyola University. Going on to the School of Medicine of the University of Illinois for her M.D, she completed her residency at Children’s Memorial Hospital. A fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, she is board certified in pediatrics and licensed in Illinois by the American Board of Pediatrics. In 2009, Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital awarded Dr. Mary for her compassionate care going above and beyond the norm.

With offices in both Lake Barrington and Crystal Lake, Pediatric Specialists serves thousands of families in Chicago Northwest Suburbs. Learn more at

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