BY SARAH RAVITS | Jun 4, 2020 – 5:00 pm
CrescentCare, New Orleans’ federally assisted, low-cost health clinic is ramping up testing for children who have COVID-19 symptoms ages 1 to 18 — a population that previously remained under-tested due to limited supplies.
Doctors at the clinic (1631 Elysian Fields Ave., 504-207-2273; www.crescentcarehealth.org) now will see youngsters from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. For those without insurance, there is no out-of-pocket cost or deductible.
The procedure for testing children is less invasive than it is for adults and involves a simple nasal swab.
The facility has been testing for the virus since March 16, but due to lagging resources, practitioners prioritized symptomatic adults facing higher risks of hospitalization or death from the novel coronavirus compared to their younger counterparts.
But after the city significantly curbed the spread of infection with a two-month stay-at-home order, infectious disease specialist Dr. Jason Halperin spearheaded the initiative. Testing children, he says, is a critical step in safely reopening the city and returning to the activities and lifestyles enjoyed before the pandemic.
Testing the area’s younger demographic also will help scientists and public health experts continue to gain a deeper understanding of the virus, how it spreads and how it manifests in different populations and age groups, he says.
Health experts across the world have determined that children generally exhibit milder symptoms of COVID-19, and the hospitalization rate is “extremely low” in that age group, Halperin says. “Children and adults are able to replicate the virus and have no symptoms at all. This makes society-wide decision-making really hard.”
Testing also can give parents and caregivers peace of mind. Children tend to pick up more viruses and illnesses than adults due to their developing immune systems — so keeping a child home for 14 days (the recommended isolation time after a COVID-19 diagnosis) can become “onerous,” Halperin says. If the child tests negative for the virus, despite a COVID-like symptom or two, he or she can heal in a few days and then return to school or camp.
“In the beginning [of the pandemic], we only had a certain amount of tests, so we had to cherry pick,” he says. “Now we know we’ve got to test everyone who needs to be tested. We don’t have a lot of data about kids going back to school. We presume these are risks, but we don’t have enough data to say for sure.”
Halperin was inspired to move forward with testing children after engaging in conversations with local summer camp directors along with Assistant State Health Officer Dr. Joe Kanter of the Louisiana Department of Health, and City of New Orleans Health Director Dr. Jennifer Avegno.
“Now that we’re talking about can a child go to camp, it changes the dynamics completely. Kids should be doing those things,” he says. “I want to do what’s best with public health, and that’s my commitment. We need to dip our toes in the water, but the only way to do that is if we build a societal structure to still allow us to be safe.”
Halperin thinks it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the country catches on to the importance of testing children.
“I do think that this is going to become a standard nationally,” he says. “New York and New Jersey are already pushing [to test] any kid with symptoms. I think we’re the first clinic in the city to state publicly, ‘Come, we’ll see any child.’ … If we don’t focus our testing on everyone in society — which includes children — we’ll be behind the 8-ball.”
CrescentCare officials say parents and caregivers should seek testing if children actively display signs or symptoms of the virus, including a dry cough, stomach issues, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, difficulty breathing, aches, pains, and/or fever.