The COVID-19 pandemic has had a ripple effect on just about everything, and that includes how, why and where kids get hurt. Rates of some paediatric injuries have gone up and others have gone down, and that has a lot to do with where we are most of the time: home.
The good news? “Sport-related injuries, like organized hockey and soccer, are down because those activities haven't been happening over the past year and a bit,” says Pamela Fuselli, president and CEO of Parachute, a national injury prevention organization. But on the other hand, “Other injuries, specifically around home safety issues, are seeing a rise around the country, because kids and families are spending more time at home.”
She adds that the difficult juggling act that many parents are performing—paid work, childcare and schooling all at the same time—can make it very tough to have the level of supervision that you would ordinarily want. “I think it’s a real contributor to the patterns that we're seeing.”
Here are some child injury issues to have on your radar. (Note that these are preliminary numbers from various sites, and that country-wide stats from Public Health Agency of Canada and Statistics Canada take several years to be collected and analyzed.)
In the early days of the pandemic, when we were all furiously scrubbing and disinfecting, poison control centres saw a spike in calls about ingestion of cleaners and disinfectants. Those numbers seem to have gone down, but poisoning due to consuming hand sanitizers continues to be high, says Fuselli. In 2019, the Canadian poison control centres got about 100 calls per month about hand sanitizer—in March 2020 that figure jumped to 300 to 400 per month, and remains at about that level.
Although the number of battery ingestions fluctuates yearly, preliminary data show child-related injuries related to swallowing button batteries, (found in devices like fitness trackers, hearing aids, singing greeting cards and key fobs), and magnets (found in some toys, board games, craft and science kits, and fridge magnets) were on the high end in Canada in 2020. In the United States, emergency visits due to battery ingestion almost doubled during the pandemic, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
If you even suspect your kid has swallowed a battery or magnet, get medical help immediately.
Some Canadian poison control centres also reported a rise in accidental ingestion of cannabis. For example, the IWK Regional Poison Centre in Halifax had 37 calls about cannabis exposure in children in 2020, compared to 14 in 2019. “Things like cannabis and cannabis edibles—you may not think about them as a drug, funnily enough, and take the same kind of precautions that you might with other products,” says Fuselli.
If there’s one good thing that can come out of a stay-at-home order (aside from reducing the spread of COVID, of course), it’s this: Last year, the Montreal Children’s Hospital saw only three emergency room visits related to motor vehicle accidents—a significant decrease from an average of 50 per year from 2015 to 2019.
The shutdown of organized sports has also led to a decrease in injury: The Electronic Canadian Hospitals Injury Reporting and Prevention Program is seeing a “massive reduction in concussion and brain injury related to sports,” says Parachute.
In Edmonton, Alberta, there were 47 emergency department visits for trampoline injuries in May 2020, compared to 28 in May 2019. Studies published from the United States and UK are showing increases in fractures from trampolines among children during the pandemic. (The Canadian Paediatric Society advises against home trampolines for kids, due to risk of injury.)
Bike rides are a great way for kids and families to get COVID-safe exercise, but it’s important to do so safely—a report from Montreal Children’s Hospital found that cycling injuries soared in 2020, after being on a downward trend since 2015.
What does all this mean for parents? If you’re the parent of a kid under six, get down to their level and see your home and yard from their point of view, which can help you ID some hazards, says Fuselli. And regardless of age, pay a little extra attention to the day-to-day activities, she says, like always wearing a bike helmet properly. No one wants a trip to the hospital for any reason right now.