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New Zealand is COVID-free—what families can learn from their lessons

Kids were allowed back to school in New Zealand in late May.

New Zealand is COVID-free—what families can learn from their lessons

As Americans watch the coronavirus continue to spread, one country is looking at COVID-19 in the rearview mirror. New Zealand announced this week that it's now virus-free, after its last sick patient recovered. Even more impressive? New Zealand accomplished that feat while letting kids go back to school—something that still seems like a pipe dream for many U.S. families.

Since the outbreak began, the country has only reported a little over 1,500 positive cases and just 22 deaths—numbers that look more like the average single day in some U.S. cities right now.

Jumping into action early was the key: the entire country went into a tight lockdown at the end of March, closing schools, businesses and ordering people to stay home. After eight weeks of vigilance—with no major outbreaks and no real community spread—kids were allowed back to school in late May, according to the Independent. For families still feeling anxious about sending their students back to classes, the New Zealand Herald reported that the government even gave the okay for schools to work out a return schedule with hesitant moms and dads.


New Zealand's prime minister Jacinda Ardern says despite what appears to be a massive success in fighting coronavirus, the country won't let its guard down. "Elimination is not a point in time, it is a sustained effort," she said according to CBS News. "We will almost certainly see cases here again, and that is not a sign that we have failed, it is a reality of this virus. But if and when that occurs we have to make sure, and we are, that we are prepared."

For families in other countries, like the United States, there is a lesson here: By listening to scientifically trained experts and taking proactive measures New Zealand was able to keep its population safe. We can make our households safer by following the recommendations of health officials and scientists, as New Zealand's Prime Minister did. Her nation's success in fighting COVID-19 also highlights how effective women leaders can be, something to keep in mind when choosing lawmakers stateside.

In the U.S., whether kids will be able to return to school on time is still very much an open question. In less populous states, The CUT noted that some schools are getting ready to hold in-person summer sessions. In areas where cases are still rising, however, educators are looking at a wide variety of scenarios, from full-time remote learning to small, socially-distanced and part-time in-person classes.

For children who've spent the last few weeks missing their friends (and parents who are tired of trying to play teacher), New Zealand's situation might be jealousy-inducing. While its size and population may mean that what it accomplished couldn't really have happened here—it's hard not to wonder what a strong, unified approach to battling coronavirus could have done for the U.S.

In This Article

    Tips parents need to know about poor air quality and caring for kids with asthma

    There are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

    When wildfires struck the West Coast in September 2020, there was a lot for parents to worry about. For parents of children with asthma, though, the danger could be even greater. "There are more than 400 toxins that are present in wildfire smoke. That can activate the immune system in ways that aren't helpful by both causing an inflammatory response and distracting the immune system from fighting infection," says Amy Oro, MD, a pediatrician at Stanford Children's Health. "When smoke enters into the lungs, it causes irritation and muscle spasms of the smooth muscle that is around the small breathing tubes in the lungs. This can lead to difficulty with breathing and wheezing. It's really difficult on the lungs."

    With the added concern of COVID-19 and the effect it can have on breathing, many parents feel unsure about how to keep their children protected. The good news is that there are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

    Here are tips parents need to know about how to deal with poor air quality when your child has asthma.

    Minimize smoke exposure.

    Especially when the air quality index reaches dangerous levels, it's best to stay indoors as much as possible. You can find out your area's AQI at AirNow.gov. An under 50 rating is the safest, but between 100-150 is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups, such as children with asthma. "If you're being told to stay indoors, listen. If you can, keep the windows and doors closed," Oro says.

    Do your best to filter the air.

    According to Oro, a HEPA filter is your best bet to effectively clean pollutants from the air. Many homes are equipped with a built-in HEPA filter in their air conditioning systems, but you can also get a canister filter. Oro says her family (her husband and children all suffer from asthma) also made use of a hack from the New York Times and built their own filter by duct taping a HEPA furnace filter to the front of a box fan. "It was pretty disgusting what we accumulated in the first 20 hours in our fan," she says.

    Avoid letting your child play outside or overly exert themselves in open air.

    "Unfortunately, cloth masks don't do very much [to protect you from the smoke pollution]," Oro says. "You really need an N95 mask, and most of those have been allocated toward essential workers." To keep at-risk children safer, Oro recommends avoiding brisk exercise outdoors. Instead, set up an indoor obstacle course or challenge your family to jumping jacks periodically to keep everyone moving safely.

    Know the difference between smoke exposure and COVID-19.

    "COVID-19 can have a lot of the same symptoms—dry cough, sore throat, shortness of breath and chest pain could overlap. But what COVID and other viruses generally cause are fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea and body aches. Those would tell you it's not just smoke exposure," Oro says. When a child has been exposed to smoke, they often complain of a "scrape" in their throat, burning eyes, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain or wheezing. If the child has asthma, parents should watch for a flare of symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing or a tight sensation in their chest.

    Unfortunately, not much is known about long-term exposure to wildfire smoke on a healthy or compromised immune system, but elevated levels of air pollution have been associated with increased COVID-19 rates. That's because whenever there's an issue with your immune system, it distracts your immune system from fighting infections and you have a harder time fighting off viruses. Limiting your exposure to wildfire smoke is your best bet to keep immune systems strong.

    Have a plan in place if you think your child is suffering from smoke exposure.

    Whatever type of medication your child takes for asthma, make sure you have it on-hand and that your child is keeping up with regular doses. Contact your child's pediatrician, especially if your area has a hazardous air quality—they may want to adjust your child's medication schedule or dosage to prevent an attack. Oro also recommends that, if your child has asthma, it might be helpful to have a stethoscope or even a pulse oximeter at home to help diagnose issues with your pediatrician through telehealth.

    Most importantly, don't panic.

    In some cases, social distancing and distance learning due to COVID may be helping to keep sensitive groups like children with asthma safer. Oro says wildfires in past years have generally resulted in more ER visits for children, but the most recent fires haven't seen the same results. "A lot of what we've seen is that the smoke really adversely affects adults, especially older adults over 65," Oro says. "Children tend to be really resilient."

    This article was sponsored by Stanford Children's Health. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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