As a parent, you probably worry about every cough and sniffle you hear from your child. Is it just a cold? The flu? And now you may be thinking, is it the new coronavirus?
Our first words of advice: Don’t panic!
Children, fortunately, have not been particularly hard hit by the new (COVID-19) coronavirus. Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause respiratory illnesses including the common cold, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). COVID-19 has been called a novel coronavirus because it is a new strain of coronavirus that has not been previously diagnosed in humans. This viral strain, first identified in Wuhan, China, most commonly causes mild symptoms similar to other common respiratory viral infections. Symptoms include fatigue, low grade fever, sneezing, mild cough and congestion. However, this viral strain can cause high fever, worsening cough and respiratory difficulty.
So far, few cases of COVID-19 in children have been reported. According to a recent report from the World Health Organization, COVID-19 in children is relatively rare and mild; only about 2.4 percent of all reported cases of coronavirus have been in children. That’s likely because most children don’t have other chronic health conditions that put them at higher risk for a serious infection. Kids also tend to be incredibly resilient.
Currently, in the United States, children and adults are more likely to get the influenza (flu) than COVID-19. Numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show the flu has killed tens of thousands of Americans every year over the last 10 years. According to CDC data from the current influenza season, flu has already sickened an estimated 32-45 million people. The hospitalization rate for children ages 0-4 this season is 80.1 per 100,000 population, and 20.6 for children ages 5-17.
Since we are still in the midst of flu season, all of the standard precautions to protect our children from flu and other respiratory viruses apply to COVID-19. Parents should teach their children good hand and respiratory hygiene, keep children home when they are sick – especially with a fever, be ready to discuss the disease with their children and be prepared in the event schools and daycares close, which would only occur under the direction of the local health department if there is significant risk.
Children should be told there are simple steps they can take to help make sure they don’t get sick with COVID-19 – or even a cold, flu or other respiratory virus. Tell children to:
- Wash your hands! Remind children to wash with warm, soapy water, and to wash long enough to sing the Happy Birthday song twice and try to wash under nails. Wash hands after going to the bathroom, before and after eating; after coughing or sneezing, after coming home from a public place, such as the mall or grocery store, and after playing outside.
- Avoid touching your face. That’s a hard one for kids to remember, but remind your children to keep their hands away from their faces – particularly, the eyes, nose and mouth.
- Cover a cough or sneeze with a tissue – and then throw out the tissue and wash hands.If a tissue isn’t available, cough or sneeze into your elbow area rather than your hand to prevent spreading germs.
- Stay away from friends who are sick. That’s another tough one for children, but it’s important for them to understand to keep some distance. Limit hugs among friends. Tell them not to share food, cups or eating utensils with their buddies.
In addition to the above, adults are encouraged to:
- Clean cell phones. We take our phones everywhere, and they are loaded with germs.
- Keep hand sanitizer around, and use it when leaving public places.
- Fill prescriptions through mail order to minimize exposure to germs at pharmacies.
Though these measures can help, if your child has a persistent cough, fever or shortness of breath, then it’s time to call the pediatrician. Generally, a phone call to the doctor is the appropriate first step.
Talk to your doctor about recent travel or interaction with people who have traveled to affected areas. If your doctor thinks your children should be screened for COVID-19, the physician will want to plan for their arrival, so it’s important to call ahead. Staff trained to prevent the spread of possible infection want to be ready to greet you and get you and your child to an exam room. They may ask all of you to wear masks.
EXPLAINING THE CORONAVIRUS TO CHILDREN
If children ask you about coronavirus, simply say this is a virus among many other respiratory viruses out there. Remind children they’ve been sick before and have recovered, so there’s no reason to worry about this latest illness.
Tell children there have been very few cases of COVID-19 in the United States.
And be reassuring; children need reassurance and comfort. Tell them that adults, including those at their schools, are closely monitoring the situation and will do everything necessary to keep them safe.
SPRING BREAK TRAVEL, SCHOOL CLOSURES
With spring break fast approaching for many school districts, parents may be wondering whether to proceed with planned vacations. Our advice: Don’t rush to change plans before considering all the factors.
It depends on where you are going and how you are getting there, but in general, don’t change your plans just yet unless someone you are traveling with has a serious, chronic medical condition.
Stay up-to-date on with the CDC’s travel guidance. Since the COVID-19 situation is constantly evolving, referring to this page periodically is a good idea.
Check cruise ship, airline and hotel cancellation policies; many are waiving cancellation fees.
While we don’t foresee this happening, if the virus spreads rapidly, local health departments could order schools and daycare facilities to close. Be ready with a backup plan. Find out if you can telecommute, or get in touch with neighbors, friends and family members who may be able to pitch in.
Above all: Be ready to be flexible as this is a dynamic situation.
Since scientists and doctors are learning more about the disease every day, we encourage everyone to stay-up-to date with the news and with the information on the CDC’s coronavirus website cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html. Also keep up with any communications that may come from school districts and daycare centers.
Don’t hesitate to call or message your doctor with any questions or concerns. /p>
We encourage parents to remain calm. Keeping calm is good for parents and children so that when new situations arise, we can make the best, most informed decisions.