Common cold causing uncommon concern amid COVID-19 pandemic

Every September, like clockwork, nine-year-old Ryker Samson’s nose starts to run, his throat gets scratchy and he develops what his mom calls his “fall cold.”

“The temperature change gets him every year,” Janeen Samson said. “He’s an asthmatic so it sticks around a little longer.”

While Samson would typically manage Ryker’s cold with tissue and medication, that wasn’t an option this time. The COVID-19 pandemic means Ryker had to get swabbed for the virus and spent nearly two weeks home from school.

“We did get COVID tested. They were negative but I still couldn’t send him because (he) still had symptoms — a little bit stuffy.”

Click to play video 'COVID-19 or a cold? Alberta Health aims to help confused parents understand symptoms in K to 12 students' COVID-19 or a cold? Alberta Health aims to help confused parents understand symptoms in K to 12 students
COVID-19 or a cold? Alberta Health aims to help confused parents understand symptoms in K to 12 students

The Samsons are among many Canadian families navigating the disruption caused by the common cold.

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Most jurisdictions’ COVID-19 screening protocols prevent students with symptoms such as a runny nose, congestion or sore throat from attending school. They must get a COVID-19 negative test and be in good health to return, which means parents are scrambling to arrange for remote learning and to work from home until then.

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For Shannon Tremblay, the common cold has affected her personal and professional life.

“I run a day home. All my families were out last week due to runny noses in their kids. And now I’m closed because mine have it,” Tremblay wrote on Facebook.

“Frustrating when test results take longer than the cold lasts. My kids have been fine the last two days but only have results for one so the other is still stuck home for isolation and my families are still without childcare.”

Dr. Raphael Sharon, an Edmonton pediatrician, says while parents may know their child’s health patterns, they cannot distinguish between symptoms of the common cold and COVID-19.

“The only way that you can distinguish between the two of them is to have your swab done so that we know if it’s COVID or not,” Dr. Sharon said.

“Parents may be right in 98 per cent of the cases that it is indeed the common cold but for those two per cent where it really is COVID you really want to know and you have to protect, not just the kids, but the vulnerable population.”

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READ MORE: Only 1.4% of kids, teenagers diagnosed with coronavirus in Canada hospitalized

Samson is bracing for more disruptions over the fall and winter.

“Now I almost have to have my sound on — my ringer on — because I’m always scared I’m going to get that phone call: please come pick up your son.”

Coronavirus: What parents need to know about sending kids to school in cold, flu season

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