By Dr. H. Cody Meissner (American Academy of Pediatrics)
The outbreak of a new coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has generated a lot news coverage, which can be overwhelming for parents and frightening to kids. Families can protect themselves and others by staying informed about the illness, taking steps to prevent transmission and offering children reassurance to ease anxiety.
Human coronaviruses are a family of viruses that usually cause illnesses like the common cold. Almost everyone gets one of these viruses at some point in their lives. Most of the time the illness only lasts for a short time.
Children do not seem to be at higher risk for getting COVID-19, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The coronavirus poses higher risks to older adults and people with serious chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, lung disease and suppressed immune systems.
As the virus spreads, we are seeing some people with mild illness, some who get very sick and some who have died. The reason health officials are concerned is because the virus is new, which makes it hard to predict how it will continue to affect people. Researchers and doctors are learning more about it every day, including exactly how it spreads and who is most at risk.
The symptoms of COVID-19 can range from mild to severe and can include fever, cough and shortness of breath. There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19, but there are a few things you can do to keep your family healthy:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer. Look for one that is 60% or higher alcohol-based.
- Keep your kids away from others who are sick or keep them home if they are ill.
- Teach kids to cough and sneeze into a tissue (make sure to throw it away after each use!) or to cough and sneeze into their arm or elbow, not their hands.
- Clean and disinfect your home as usual using regular household cleaning sprays or wipes.
- Avoid touching your face; teach your children to do the same.
- Avoid travel to highly infected areas.
If there is a COVID-19 outbreak in your community, local public health officials may decide to temporarily close schools and child-care centers to help slow the spread of the virus. Many schools use email to update families. Be sure your child’s school knows how to get in touch with you.
Working parents can be prepared by having alternative child-care plans or talking with their employers about work-from-home options during school closings. If your child attends a college or university, encourage them to learn about the school’s plan for a COVID-19 outbreak.
If your children need to stay at home due to the outbreak, try to keep their days as routine and scheduled as possible. Consider spending time reading with your child. Make time for active play, by bringing out the blocks, balls and games that will keep them moving. Keep an eye on media time. Whenever possible, play video games or go online with your child to keep that time structured and limited. If kids are missing their school friends or other family, try video chats to stay in touch.
The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages parents and others who work closely with children to filter information and talk about it in a way that their child can understand.
Remind children that researchers and doctors are learning as much as they can, as quickly as they can, about
the virus and are taking steps to keep everyone safe. It’s a great time to remind your children of what they can do to help — washing their hands often, coughing into a tissue or their sleeves and getting enough sleep.
Children may not have the words to express their worry, but you may see signs of it. They may get cranky, be more clingy, have trouble sleeping or seem distracted. Keep the reassurance going and try to stick to your normal routines.
Keep young children away from frightening images they may see on TV, social media or computers. For older children, talk together about what they are hearing on the news and correct any misinformation or rumors you may hear.
Be a good role model, too. COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate and neither should we. While COVID-19 started in Wuhan, China, it doesn’t mean that having Asian ancestry — or any other ancestry — makes someone more susceptible to the virus or more contagious. Stigma and discrimination hurt everyone by creating fear or anger toward others. When you show empathy and support to those who are ill, your children will too.
For more information, go to HealthyChildren.org:www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/chest-lungs/Pages/2019-Novel-Coronavirus.aspx.
• Children’s health is a continuing series. This week’s article is courtesy of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Wash hands frequently and remind children that researchers and doctors are learning as much as they can about COVID-19.