At this very moment a year ago, the world was celebrating the arrival of the first COVID-19 vaccines and the promise of what the New Year would bring in the fight against the virus. We wondered what “the new normal” might look like and how our kids would adjust transitioning from virtual to in-person learning. We watched a quarantine Olympics and saw billionaires reach space. We followed a flurry of headlines as our Valley and our country faced unprecedented challenges.
We watched, we waited and we hoped.
Through it all, we have been inspired by the courage and compassion of others, especially those in our own communities. In recognition of all the accomplishments we’ve celebrated and the challenges we’ve met together throughout this unforgettable year, we want to take you on a look back through 2021 at some of the top themes as they relate to the children and families we serve.
Much of the world’s focus this year was dedicated to ending the COVID-19 pandemic, and in 2021, the world welcomed a powerful ally in the fight: vaccines. In May, the FDA authorized the Pfizer vaccine for children 12-15 years old. For Valley Children’s, this authorization meant not only administering the vaccine for our communities, but working to educate families and dispel misinformation about COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccines.
Valley Children’s also followed the alarming rise of a MIS-C, a condition that occurs in children under 21 years of age where different body parts and systems can become inflamed. MIS-C can occur at the end of a COVID-19 infection or later after a child has fully recovered, and can also occur after a COVID-19 infection that has no symptoms.
In March, Californians marked the one-year anniversary of the first COVID-19 shutdowns. Valley Children’s Senior Vice President and Chief Community Impact Officer Lynne Ashbeck offered her perspective on the anniversary:
“We have seen humanity at its best. We have heard people wonder about new ways to support a family in need and local businesses, uplift our kids who miss their friends and connect with loved ones who might be alone. In the most difficult times, there was kindness and compassion for each other.
Reflections on this last year, for me, have also highlighted the circumstances of so many others who could not work from home, who could not access the internet to help their kids with virtual learning and who were scared, afraid and lost in worry about what would come next. This experience has renewed my own personal commitment – and the commitment of Valley Children’s – to do more to erase health inequities and to lift up all kids where they live, learn and play.”
Returning to School
This year marked a major milestone in the national recovery from COVID-19: schools returned to in-person learning. In the face of the Delta variant and “the new normal,” schools and parents faced an array of new challenges, and Valley Children’s was dedicated to meeting the need for support and timely, trustworthy information.
In her blog post “Back to School: Supporting Your Kids’ Emotional and Mental Wellness,” Valley Children’s pediatric psychologist Dr. Merideth Wirstiuk empathized with the struggles kids faced in transitioning back to in-person learning:
“Pressures that kids face today are enormous, especially after surviving a hard year of mostly or all virtual learning. Things that contribute to stress in kids may include anxiety with returning to school, academic concerns, social pressures, social media and the general uncertainty related to the pandemic and safety.”
The collective stress and anxiety the world experienced in 2021 brought about a greater focus on mental health, especially children’s mental health. Just this month, the United States Surgeon General issued an advisory about the worsening impact of the pandemic on kids.
But perhaps some of the most vocal advocates for mental health this year came from the world of sports. In 2021, sports stars from tennis to basketball to football and beyond stood up and made the world take note of mental health in athletics. Valley Children’s own Dr. Kerry Loveland, medical director of orthopaedic surgery, penned an article about the importance of mental health for athletes of all ages:
“As a pediatric orthopaedic surgeon, I often see injuries related to overuse. As kids start organized, year-round competitive sports at younger ages, we more frequently see sports injuries we used to associate with older players and even the pros. But […] our kids can be susceptible to mental overuse injuries, too – the result of ongoing and mounting pressure to perform, resulting in a toxic combination of anxiety, stress and depression that can impact them into adulthood.”