Children’s Miracle Network (CMN) hospitals are caring for patients facing pediatric illness while preparing for a potential influx of COVID-19 cases.  

San Luis Obispo county’s designated CMN hospital is Cottage Children’s Medical Center (CCMC) in Santa Barbara. Dr. Steven Barkley, chief pediatric medical officer and NICU medical director, is one of many on the frontlines. 

“This is the healthcare challenge of our lives,” Barkley wrote in an email to Mustang News.

According to Barkley, medical workers have three main tasks to fight COVID-19: control the spread, treat the ill and find a cure.

“We see evidence of heroism, dedication and devotion every day,” Barkley wrote. “The entire world is focused on defeating COVID-19.”

While COVID-19 was first believed to be more of a concern for adults than children, the medical community is learning that children can get the virus, according to Barkley.  

San Luis Obispo County has 61 confirmed cases of coronavirus in children (zero to 17-years old) as of Tuesday, June 30, according to County Public Health.  This number is about 10 percent of all coronavirus cases in San Luis Obispo County. 

California has 17,739 confirmed cases of coronavirus in children (zero to 17-years old) as of Monday, June 29, according to the California Department of Public Health. This number is about 8 percent of all coronavirus cases in California. No children have died due to COVID-19 in California. 

CCMC has responded to COVID-19, a highly contagious disease, by planning isolation and testing procedures. Additionally, CCMC has designated appropriate protocols for personal protective equipment (PPE) used by children, their families and medical workers.

California’s stay-at-home order and social distancing guidelines have altered both patient care and visitor accessibility. 

CCMC continues to serve children whose health conditions require in-person care, however, visitor restrictions are enforced.  While a parent or guardian is permitted to stay with their pediatric patient, a lack of visitors can be challenging on children and their families, according to Barkley. 

As more research regarding COVID-19 emerges, CCMC will slowly lift visitor restrictions while maintaining a safe environment, according to Barkley. 

Additionally, CCMC has begun to offer more telemedicine for patients who may be seen while at home, easing the burden of families to visit the hospital during a pandemic. 

As medical workers continue to fight COVID-19, the community’s efforts to social distance and wear masks in public have assisted in keeping case rates from surging, according to Barkley.

Barkley wrote that he is confident the COVID-19 pandemic will pass. However, in the meantime a “new normal” lifestyle must be respected. This routine includes minimizing interactions and frequently washing your hands. 

“Our goal has to remain that we will allow as few children and adults to be infected as possible,” Barkley wrote. “The ability to do that lies solely in all of us doing our part.”

The executive board of Cal Poly Dance Marathon (CPDM), a club that fundraises year-round for CCMC, has continued advocating for pediatric patients. 

Despite the uncertainty of fall quarter, CPDM president and recreation, parks and tourism administration junior Kailey Ridenour said the executive board is dedicated to its mission statement, “Dancing until every kid has the opportunity to be Cal Poly proud.”

Established in 2016, Cal Poly Dance Marathon hosts an annual 12 hour event, complete with dancing, entertainment and guest speakers from CCMC. This February, Cal Poly Dance Marathon raised $46,501.20.

Ridenour said CPDM’s executive board is focused on building communication, developing fundraising ideas and planning for various scenarios for next year’s Dance Marathon. This event will likely be hosted in Spring 2021, according to Ridenour.

“During [Zoom] meetings, I’ve been trying to focus on making the group feel bonded,” Ridenour said. “We are constantly keeping an open mind and brainstorming as a team how to be successful.”

One member of Cal Poly Dance Marathon’s executive board is on the frontlines of a pediatric therapy clinic in King County, Washington. 

Cal Poly Dance Marathon internal director and psychology sophomore Alexandria Aarrestad began working as a clinic aide in March. This clinic specializes in physical, speech and occupational therapy.  

Aarrestad’s primary responsibility was maintaining COVID-19 procedures, such as cleaning, organizing and preparing for if someone in the clinic presents symptoms.

Last year, Aarrestad was CPDM’s hospital relations chair. In this role, Aarrestad worked with immunocompromised children and their families.

“My passion lies in the cause-connection side of Dance Marathon,” Aarrestad said. “I was focusing on the kids, the hospital and pediatric illness.”

As a college student who is knowledgeable about pediatric illness, Aarrestad said she feels frustrated when people do not take COVID-19 seriously and do not comply with social distancing guidelines.

“I work with immunocompromised kids and have kids in my life who have gone through chemotherapy,” Aarrestad said. “I wish that people would still take it seriously for vulnerable populations.

According to the CDC, conditions such as cancer can weaken a person’s immune system, leaving one immunocompromised.  This deficit creates a higher risk of becoming severely ill from COVID-19.  A person who is immunocompromised may remain infectious for a longer period of time than a person who is not. 

Aarrestad said while many people are concerned about the elderly contracting COVID-19, immunocompromised children are an overlooked, vulnerable population.

“Children most impacted by this virus have already been dealt difficult cards, such as childhood cancer,” Aarrestad said. “There are thousands of kids who are at risk and need us to be staying home for them.  It’s serious and up to us to help.”

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