BLUEFIELD — When Jack and Katherine Garwood’s 7-week-old daughter became ill last week, the young Bluefield couple took Gemma to their pediatrician and had no clue what the results of a routine nasal swab test would show.
But they were not prepared when told their baby had tested positive for COVID-19.
“We could not believe our baby had COVID,” said Jack Garwood, adding they did not know babies could even contract the virus. “We have been at a loss. It was a huge shock to both of us.”
Thankfully, the pediatrician has assured them Gemma will recover, he said, but the saga has been a rough one, especially considering the baby continues to have COVID symptoms, including congestion, difficulty breathing and a “bit of a fever.”
When the symptoms first appeared last week they took her to their pediatrician in Beckley the following day.
“They thought it was a urinary tract infection, but did not diagnosis it, and said it could be allergies or a cold,” he said, and they were told to “keep an eye on it” and make sure the baby was hydrated with pedialyte.
As a “cautionary” part of the visit, a nasal swab was taken to run a panel of tests.
On Friday evening they received a call from the pediatrician’s office and were told Gemma tested positive for COVID and to monitor symptoms and keep the baby hydrated, and take the baby to the ER if the condition worsened.
“We did a lot of research, including the CDC (Centers for Disease Control),” he said, but only found information about what to do when mothers with COVID are breast feeding. “We felt terrible.”
Garwood said their baby had been stable with no worsening of symptoms, but was obviously still sick.
On Sunday night, though, Gemma started struggling more to breathe and was taken to the PCH Bluefield Emergency Department, but not much could be done other than routine monitoring.
On Monday morning, still exhausted from the ordeal, the couple took Gemma back to Beckley, where her lungs were found to be clear, another positive sign.
“There’s not much they can do,” he said. “She can’t get treatment adults would.”
Since neither of them or anyone they have been around routinely have had COVID, they do not know how their daughter caught it.
Katherine Garwood said parents have restrictions on any exposure to their babies.
“I think it’s important that parents be aware and take precautions,” she said. “We took all the precautions, and my daughter still got sick. It’s hard to tell new grandparents and family members not to kiss a new baby, but parents need to put their foot down and people need to respect boundaries that parents have put in place.”
Garwood said infants are very vulnerable, far more so than people realize.
“It doesn’t matter how safe one thinks they are being, you can pass anything on to a newborn, especially when you aren’t showing symptoms,” she said. “Their immune systems aren’t built up yet and being so little, they can’t have the same treatments older children and adults can, and they feel it ten times worse. It’s important that during a pandemic, even though it’s hard being separated from families, that everyone follows guidelines and takes the proper precautions.”
Dr. Ayne Amjad, state Health Officer and head of the West Virginia Bureau of Public Health, said infants and anyone “at any age” can contract COVID.
“Parents should be careful with babies in crowded areas and not let unvaccinated people or strangers around them,” she said, adding that kids less than 2 years old do not wear masks so are more exposed.
The good news is that babies bounce back and the Garwoods are doing what they should be doing.
“Babies are usually resilient,” Amjad said. “They need to stay hydrated and just observed.”
Newborns can have COVID as well.
Rose Morgan, Vice President of Patient Care Services at Princeton Community Hospital, said PCH has had one case.
“We have had one born with what they suspected was COVID but we sent the baby out to a neonatal intensive care unit,” she said. A newborn’s oxygen level must be monitored to make sure the baby is getting enough oxygen.
“Typically, what happens is the mother gets exposed to COVID prior to the baby’s birth,” she said, also saying hydration and observation are all that can be done in Gemma’s case.
Babies get some immunities through their mothers if they are breast fed, but they typically are born “without a lot of immunity” and public exposure should wait.
Morgan said spreading the virus often happens without knowing a person has been exposed because even young adults can have it but experience no symptoms at all, and babies in particular should not be exposed.