It’s heart month and cardiologist Dr. Elizabeth Sherwin is here to answer your questions about returning to school during the pandemic and what that may look like for children with heart conditions.

Is it safe to return to school?

There are so many factors to take into consideration for keeping children, teachers and staff safe at school. We need to weigh the risks and the benefits and acknowledge that staying at home works for some students academically and socially, but other kids doing distance learning are experiencing academic struggles and mental health stress.

While some modifications have to be made for kids to safely return to school — such as social distancing, masking and hand washing — I believe that with these modifications kids can safely go back.

So, talk to your child’s school about what precautions are in place. In the meantime, make sure your child stays active, moves around, does some exercise and gets some fresh air. This will help prepare them for getting back to the classroom and minimize fatigue and dizziness.

Is my child at higher risk because of their heart disease?

This is a very individualized question. For the most part we think no — many children with heart conditions are not at higher risk of acquiring COVID-19, or any other virus for that matter. However, there will be unique situations. There are some types of heart disease that will make it harder if kids get a respiratory infection and they may have more significant respiratory symptoms. There are also side effects from the virus that may affect some children more significantly than others. But it’s really individualized and many of our patients with heart conditions will be able to tolerate a mild coronavirus infection just as any other child would. I encourage you to talk to your child’s cardiologist about their unique situation and how coronavirus might affect them.

Does COVID affect the heart rhythm?

Yes, it can. It doesn’t affect everyone, and most patients won’t have an arrhythmia, but we are seeing heart rhythm disorders in adults and children who have COVID infections. We’re also seeing this in the MIS-C population, which is the illness that occurs 4 to 6 weeks after a COVID exposure. Again, it’s not the majority but it is a possibility. Signs of an irregular heart rhythm include palpitations or feeling something different with the heartbeat — a skipped beat, a thud, a pounding or heart racing. These symptoms are not specific to COVID but are worth discussing and can have many different causes. So, report these to your provider and have an evaluation.

Is it safe to visit the hospital for a cardiac appointment?

Yes. We are here and it’s important to come to visits to take care of your heart and to have evaluations that are needed. We have lots of ways to keep your visit safe and to keep you and our staff protected.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elizabeth Sherwin Elizabeth Sherwin, MD, is an interventional electrophysiologist with a special interest in inherited arrhythmia evaluation and management. She is a board certified cardiologist and electrophysiologist and specializes in cardiac ablation.

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