COVID-19, Health

Pediatrician Says Planning & Parental Instincts Key as COVID-19 Hits Closer to Home

Pediatrician Says Planning & Parental Instincts Key as COVID-19 Hits Closer to Home

The number of Illinois’ confirmed COVID-19 infections jumped by 1,006 with 33 additional lost lives reported Monday, April 6th. That brings the totals in Illinois to 12,262 confirmed cases, 307 deaths and 62,942 people tested. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, there are currently 18 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the 60010 zip code.

Long-time Barrington pediatrician, Dr. Mary Collins says she’s hearing from more concerned parents seeking advice during this time and the first patients linked to her practice, all from one family, have tested positive.

Dr. Collins is urging that we remain vigilant in our efforts to stay healthy and says, when it comes to our kids, we should never underestimate the power of planning and parental instincts. Here’s more from our conversation….

Has there been an increase in positive COVID-19 cases in the Barrington area and have any patients with your practice, Pediatric Specialists of the Northwest, tested positive?

Yes, more people locally are testing positive. It’s on the rise and we’ve been expecting it. We’re expecting this week and next week to be the peaks.

We did have a diagnosis in our practice and it was a whole family. Both parents and two of their kids who are teenagers were all positive. They did not visit either of our offices. They all were very mildly ill, no-one was hospitalized and they are recovering at home.

We are aware of an increase in suspected cases involving parents and we’re hearing stories about these parents not getting calls back from their doctors, so they’re left wondering what to do.

What should people do if they find themselves in this position?

I’m telling people to start by calling their primary care doctor. If they don’t get a response, then know that there is an amazing resource through NorthShore Community Health System’s COVID-19 Hotline at 847-432-5849.

They are very professional and have proven to be a reliable and efficient resource that has worked well for some of our families. They have four COVID-19 testing centers in Skokie, Niles, Gurnee and Lake Bluff. They’re not ER’s or Urgent Care facilities. They are just testing centers for COVID-19 and their turnaround time for test results is 24 hours which is good because you’re not waiting a week to ten days.

They answer calls live during their hotline hours which are from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. When you call the hotline there are two prompts. One is if you want to be educated about COVID. The other is if you’re concerned that you or a family member may have symptoms and that’s the one you want. Nurse practitioners who answer the hotline will give you specific steps to take based on type and severity of symptoms. Those steps range from staying home for more mild symptoms to scheduling a test to heading to your nearest emergency room for more urgent health concerns.

I really want people to have a protocol for what to do if they’re reaching out to their doctor for medical help and they aren’t hearing back right away. To have a number to call where people are treated with respect and decency is very important because everyone is so stressed out right now. Having a plan will help people feel calmer, allowing them to focus on tuning in to those parental instincts that we need more than ever right now for our kids.

How can we continue to be vigilant about protecting our kids and families? 

We are now recommending everyone wear a mask and disposable plastic or latex gloves when you have to venture out to the store for necessities. If you’re using your winter gloves, that’s fine, as long as they get washed right after you get home.

Also, designate one parent to be the “dirty parent” or the one making trips to the store for essential needs. The “clean parent” who stays at home should be the parent who spends most time with the kids on things like schoolwork and meal preparation during the day. Make sure the parent who heads out takes precautions when they come back home like disinfecting groceries, washing clothes and taking a shower right away. These measures will help minimize your family’s risk of exposure.

Beyond staying home and social distancing, our parental instincts mean everything right now. No one knows your child better than you do. If your child is doing something that is completely different and unusual and sustained there may be something going on that at least needs medical advice. Pay attention to changes in their eating habits, their sleeping habits, their emotional habits, how easygoing or difficult they are. Watch for constant changes that are happening on a daily basis during an extended period of time such as seven to ten days.

Right now, if we don’t have these strong instincts, children are picking up on the anxiety of our world. It’s our job as parents and as docs to find that middle ground and not overreact or under-react. This is not the time for either. It’s also not the time to neglect important things other than medical illness with our kids.

What are examples of things we should be watching for?

What I’m hearing about now, as healthy kids are coming in for their checkups, we’re talking about developmental concerns and changes in kids’ emotions. We’re talking about changes in sleep patterns or digestive issues or kids not wanting a parent to be out of their sight. I think there’s also anger which can be linked to anxiety. Kids are upset that they can’t see their friends or run down to the park and play. Kids are angry because they love school and they love their teachers and they can’t be with their class. With older kids a lot of time you’ll feel like they’re much more inflexible and they have to have things their way.

What should we do to address things we may notice? 

Call your pediatrician if you have concerns. Beyond that, I don’t know that there’s much we can do other than trying to get outside and get out of the four walls of the house and change things up a little bit.

I also know sleep has always been such an important thing with children because, if they don’t get their sleep and have a sleep schedule, the level of anxiety upticks significantly. I’m trying to have parents understand that they have to be militant about sleep.

How are you handling appointments for patients who are sick?

We are operating strictly by appointment only. We have done a very good job as a practice of keeping all well checkups between 8:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. with sick visits in the afternoon and by appointment only. The obsessive cleanliness that we’ve produced with our staff is going well.

Interestingly, we’ve seen very little pediatric sickness in both our Barrington and Crystal Lake offices. Our number of illnesses is extremely low, even with our nurses answering the phone and giving advice.

For this season influenza and RSV are on the way out if not completely gone. Most viral illnesses like these have a seasonal quality, though we don’t yet know what to expect with COVID-19. In places like China, South Korea and parts of Europe it looks like COVID hits hard, stays around for several months and then dwindles which is the way a lot of winter respiratory viruses are. There’s a seasonality and then they go underground and they’re not around for many months. We are hoping COVID-19 will be in that kind of family.

With everything that’s being done in closing the schools and people staying home, we’ve started to see the fruits of our labors. I feel that parents should be very happy about their efforts. What you’re doing will continue to work and improve our situation.

Do you have any advice to help us with building structure for our kids at home during this time? 

I’m recommending a visual schedule, something that’s written up the night before. It doesn’t have to be the same every day. Parents can change it up but, starting when the kids get up in the morning, let’s say there’s a list of eight things they are going to do from the time they get up to the time they go to bed. That helps with routines and boundaries.

Then there’s the whole screen time thing. The non-educational screen time part of the day has to be limited and scheduled at intervals that make sense. I think kids have to earn it. They can’t just expect it’s something that’s going to happen, and they should lose it if there isn’t good behavior.

An exercise routine is also important for kids of all ages along with group activities. How about producing a play and having the parents come and watch? Or let the kids take old socks and turn them into puppets so they can put on a puppet show. Sidewalk chalk is always a win on a nice day. Let them go outside and just draw on the driveway or sidewalk.

And if behavioral shifts are the biggest problem we see out of all of this, God bless, we’ll work it out and go back to our normal lives but there’s just a lot of anxiety that I’m hearing about and seeing in my patients. Trust your instincts, seek advice from your doctors and know that you are not alone.

Click here for our first interview with Dr. Mary Collins about keeping kids healthy as coronavirus spreads in Illinois.


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 MyPedsDoc.org.

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