Can I be with my child in a Covid-19 quarantine facility, or in hospital?

"They will have to arrest me before I let them take my child away from me."
"They will have to arrest me before I let them take my child away from me."

Chilling images of Western Cape Premier Alan Winde walking through a cold white isolation ward has sent local moms into a fearful frenzy.

The pictures in question show rows of sterile white cots in a stark white room, with no beds for parents - not even so much as a seat for them to settle alongside their infants.

The images, shared on Premier Alan Winde's Facebook page, are of the Old Mutual Limited 300 bed isolation and quarantine facility, which the company has made available to help flatten the Covid-19 curve. 

These images caused many parents to question whether or not sick or quarantined children will be allowed visitors, or if parents would even be able to stay with their children at all.

I don't need to tell you how sickening the thought of being separated from their sick children is, for parents.

Alan Winde inspects the Old Mutual Limited 300 bed

Premier  Alan Winde inspects the Old Mutual Limited 300 bed isolation and quarantine facility. (Premier Alan Winde/Facebook)

Risk arrest, over separation 

One mom reached out to tell me that "they will have to arrest me before I let them take my child away from me".  

As the mother of a premature baby myself, who has been into hospital for respiratory issues, I can relate. Those memories are hard enough to bear, years later, and the mere thought of leaving my child in such a Covid-19 quarantine facility, or a hospital, alone, is intolerable. 

Additionally, studies show that when children are forcefully separated from their parents, especially in times of trauma and fear, it has long term effects on their emotional and mental development. 

Parent24 reached to Alan Winde for further details, and Bianca Capazorio, Spokesperson for Minister Alan Winde, responded, clarifying that these quarantine and isolation facilities are provided for two situations:

Quarantine: Someone has been in close contact with a Covid-19 positive person, but is not yet symptomatic or awaiting test results, and they do not have the space or facilities to self-quarantine at home.

Isolation: The person has tested positive and isn't able to self-isolate at home. 

"People making use of our quarantine or isolation sites might be asymptomatic, or experiencing mild symptoms that do not require hospitalisation," she said. 

The Old Mutual site has made provision so that families do not have to be separated, which includes the provision of cots for small children, Capazorio explained.

The site will have some nursing staff on duty; however, it is not a hospital, she added, and so children will never be placed there without a family member or caregiver to look after them.

That is indeed reassuring, but what happens in hospitals? 

Parent24 reached out to several hospitals to find out what their policies are, in this time of Covid-19 and physical distancing, and the general consensus seems to be that one parent can stay with their child in hospital, under certain conditions.

Netcare’s Covid-19 policy

According to Dr Anchen Laubscher, Netcare’s group medical director, the hospital's clinical protocols extend to their paediatric patients. 

This requires all elective medical and surgical admissions must be tested for Covid-19 48 to 72 hours before admission, isolate at home during this time and present their results on the day of admission. 

In the case of emergency admissions, screening and testing will be performed on arrival.

Netcare’s Covid-19 visitation policy allows one parent to room in with a Covid-19 negative child in the paediatric unit, but only if the parent has also tested negative for Covid-19.

The parent should go for testing at the same time as the child in the case of elective admissions.

The parent will have to wear a mask and adhere to strict precautionary measures, which will be explained to them on their child’s admission.

For extended stay paediatric patients, the rooming-in parent will be required to undergo weekly testing and will be allowed to visit their child daily if rooming in for such a long period is not logistically possible for the parent.

Extremely exceptional circumstances

If a child is Covid-19 positive, a parent will only be permitted to room in with their child in extremely exceptional circumstances and in consultation with hospital management and the treating clinical teams. The same process applies to a parent who is Covid-19 positive.

No grandparents or siblings are allowed to visit the paediatric unit.

"We appreciate that these precautionary measures may be most difficult for families but it is Netcare’s responsibility to act in the best interests of our young patients and healthcare workers," Dr Laubscher told Parent24

Tygerberg Hospital

Laticia Pienaar, Principal Communications Officer at Tygerberg Hospital, told us that children with Covid-19 are admitted to a dedicated Covid Ward, and one parent or caregiver is allowed stay with them.

No other visitors are allowed.

Parents must wear masks at all times during their stay with the child. The child and parent cannot mix with other parents or children, as they are isolated as well. 

Melomed Private Hospital

Shameema Adams, Group Marketing  Manager of Melomed told Parent24 that "We understand the anxiety and stress the parents encounter admitting their child into hospital. We can only imagine the concerns and anxiety when the admission falls within a pandemic period."

"All patients, including paediatric patients, must be tested for Covid-19 either prior to or during their hospital stay, and paediatric patients will be allowed one visitor at any point in time," she told us.

A parent or guardian will be allowed to stay for the duration of the hospital stay, depending on the health assessment of both parent and child, and with the approval of the treating doctor. 

The parent or guardian will not be allowed into theatre, to minimise risk and infection control.

Anyone, including staff members, patients, service providers, visitors or specialists entering any Melomed hospital is required to undergo a screening process and must follow strict personal protective equipment protocols, including the wearing of masks, at all times, Adams explained. 

Why you should insist on being with your child

Michelle Ireland, a Cape Town-based Educational Psychologist, explains the risks of forced separation, intending to encourage parents to stand up for themselves and their children should they be told they cannot be with the child in hospital.

Ireland explained to Parent24 that "Infants and toddlers develop an exceptionally strong bond with their caregivers as a means to ensure physical and emotional security."

She said that within this trusting relationship a child will develop a sense of feeling safe in the world.

"They learn independence, self-confidence, the ability to manage their emotions, and a willingness to explore and learn about the world with a safe base to return to," she explained.

"Evidence has indicated that children who face a separation from their parents can experience substantial emotional trauma in the short term."

More long lasting effects can include increased risk for psychological disorders (post traumatic stress, anxiety disorders, depression and aggression), developmental regression, language difficulties and interference in brain development.

Deeply painful emotional effects

When separation is coupled with frightening events such as medical procedures, a child’s trauma response is increased substantially as they are unable to be soothed and emotionally protected by an adult they trust, she said. 

"If separating parents and children in the treatment of Covid-19 is proposed, the long lasting and deeply painful emotional effects of separation-trauma on children in a traumatic medical context needs to be carefully considered and risks analyzed," Ireland re-iterated. 

The traumatic impact on parents is a further consideration, she said, adding that "Parents need be involved in making decisions about their children’s short and long term health and development while being informed of all of the associated risks." 

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