Jeff Schnaufer | First 5 LA Writer/Editor

September 29, 2022

(Editor’s Note: This is one of three vignettes illustrating the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on families with young children. Each vignette highlights a key finding from a survey of L.A. County parents of young children two years after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Interviews were conducted in the spring and summer. Read the full article on the survey results here. 

“Because she is little, she can’t explain what she is going through.” 

Those are the concerns of Perla Lagunas as she talks about her 5-year-old daughter, Esmeralda. Two years after the onset of COVID-19, the Panorama City mother is still dealing with the consequences of the pandemic on her daughter’s health.  

Like many parents in Los Angeles County, Perla and her husband had to decide whether to keep Esmeralda in early learning when the pandemic hit.  

“I did enroll her in pre-K and my husband kept saying to take her out of school because all the kids are not vaccinated and she would get COVID,” Perla recalled.  

Not long afterward, Perla noticed that other children were not wearing their masks.  

“I kept telling my little one, ‘You have to wear your mask’ and she would come out of school without her mask on,” Perla recalled. “It was a constant battle to have her keep her mask on.” 

Outside of school, Perla did her best to keep her six children safe. She went to the store alone, doing all of the shopping. At home, she cleaned and cleaned.   

“The stress was the sanitizing,” Perla said. “I didn’t want my little girl to get sick because she did not have the vaccine. I had to be really careful with her.” 

Despite her best efforts, Perla’s children began to come down with COVID-19.  

“Esmeralda was probably the one who brought it home because the kids at school were taking off their masks,” Perla said.  

In her family, only Perla did not come down with COVID-19. Of all her children, Esmeralda had COVID-19 the longest after contracting it in January.   

“She had it for three weeks,” Perla said. “I kept giving her albuterol and the asthma machine. I kept telling her, ‘We’re fighting the virus.’ She kept saying, ‘Yeah, we’re fighting the virus.’ When she tested negative, she jumped up and said, ‘Yay! I don’t have COVID no more!’” 

But COVID-19 left its mark on 5-year-old Esmeralda’s health.   

“After Covid, she is not the same,” Perla said. 

Two months after she became ill with COVID-19, the girl struggles with daily activities. And because she is a young child, she cannot explain why.   

Said Perla: “At 5 years old, all she can say is ‘I feel very tired.’” 

Esmeralda used to love to go shopping. Now she says no. She used to eagerly get up for school. Now she struggles to get out of bed in the morning. Her head sometimes hurts. “I have to keep her home, so she is missing more school,” Perla said. 

Most telling of all are Esmeralda’s trips to the park, one of her favorite activities.   

“Before, we would be there for two to three hours and we used to struggle to get her into the car,” Perla said. “But now after an hour she is like, ‘I’m tired. Let’s go home.’” 

Perla says she will make an appointment for Esmeralda to see a doctor soon. But she wonders what they – and she – can do. 

Perla is not alone.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there have been 14.6 million cases of children with COVID-19 nationwide as of September 8, representing 18.4 percent of all cases. 

Similarly, a survey of 269 Los Angeles County parents with young children conducted for First 5 LA two years after the onset of the pandemic found that more than half (52 percent) reported that their child’s physical health had been affected by the pandemic. Of these: 

  • More than 3 in 4 parents (78 percent) said their child had less exercise/physical activity  
  • More than 1 in 3 parents (38 percent) said they did not take their child to well child visits such as doctor, dentist, or vision exams.
  • More than 1 in 3 parents (34 percent) said their child got COVID-19. 

Notably, a recent meta-analysis found 25 percent of children and adolescents nationally had ongoing symptoms following COVID-19 infection. Fatigue, shortness of breath and headaches were the most common symptoms for children.    

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “There is an urgent need to collect more age-specific data to assess the severity of illness related to new variants as well as potential longer-term effects. It is important to recognize there are immediate effects of the pandemic on children’s health, but importantly we need to identify and address the long-lasting impacts on the physical, mental, and social well-being of this generation of children and youth.” 

Meanwhile, for parents like Perla, there are only questions.  

“How do I deal with this?” Perla asked. “How are doctors going to deal with the side effects after children get COVID?” 

Resources About Child and Family Health and COVID-19: Throughout the pandemic, First 5 LA has provided health resources and information for children, families and pregnant women. Additionally, First 5 LA has gathered general information and shared resources to help partners, parents and L.A. County residents impacted by the crisis.