What Parents Should Know About Kids and COVID-19

Don't panic, wash your hands, and remember—children are not at high risk from this virus
March 19, 2020 Updated: March 20, 2020
FONT BFONT SText size

While the situation is swiftly evolving, and experts are learning more about COVID-19 daily, there are things parents and their kids can do to take precautions.

“The first, and most likely scenario, is that children are contracting COVID-19 but are getting a milder version of the disease,” says Thomas Murray, a pediatric infections disease specialist at Yale School of Medicine and associate medical director for infection prevention at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital.

Other possibilities: they’re not exposed, or they’re exposed and don’t contract the infection. “Given how quickly it circulates and what we know about other respiratory viruses in children, this is unlikely,” Murray says. Based on what’s known, it appears children contract COVID-19—but present a milder disease.

As of today, there have been no known deaths reported in the 0-9-year-old age group and there have been few hospitalizations. The disease seems to primarily affect older adults and those with underlying health problems.

As for how to protect children, the rules are simple, explains Murray.

“Wash your hands, wash your hands, and then wash your hands. Kids like to touch their face. Your nose, mouth, and eyes are all portals of entry for viruses into your body,” Murray said.

Frequent hand washing, especially with toddlers and kids, is important.

Keep kids away from people who are sick, especially if they have respiratory symptoms. And if your kids are sick, keep them home. For COVID-19, one of the most important things for containment is to isolate people who have the virus.

While it’s not clear yet how much COVID-19 is transmitted from surfaces, we know other respiratory viruses can be, Murray says.

If children are sick, keep them home.

“Any fever, cough, respiratory symptoms—these are all reasons to stay home,” Murray said.

And, if you have a child with a respiratory illness who has frequent contact with elderly grandparents or caregivers, try to separate them until the child is feeling better—kids can be reservoirs for respiratory illness.

Call your healthcare provider if you know you have been exposed to someone who is a positive COVID-19 case, or if you have a high fever, severe cough—just like you would otherwise.

“You don’t have to call your pediatrician for mild illness because it could be any number of viruses,” Murray says.

“Again, the virus appears to be mild in children, and there are no available therapies today.”

Providers urge families to avoid the emergency room unless their child genuinely requires emergency care. This will help keep emergency services available for the children who really need them and protect children who are most at-risk. Be vigilant. Wash your hands. It’s about containment, not the seriousness of the disease because it’s new.

COVID-19 presents respiratory illness with symptoms including fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Flu symptoms are similar, and usually come on suddenly. Symptoms include fever higher than 100.5 degrees, extreme exhaustion, muscle or body aches, and chills. The flu, particularly influenza B, has hit children across the country hard this year.

“We’re not out of the woods with flu season yet,” Murray said.

For children with chronic pulmonary or respiratory illnesses like cystic fibrosis, it is business as usual.

“For those families, don’t treat this any differently than flu or other highly contagious respiratory illnesses. Wash your hands and avoid sick contacts.”

If you do contract COVID-19 or are exposed to a diagnosed patient, be prepared to be quarantined for 14 days—so have enough household supplies to keep you stocked for two weeks.

In closing, Murray says while there is a potential for widespread disease, his advice is simple: Prepare, don’t panic.

“Just be vigilant. Wash your hands. It’s about containment, not the seriousness of the disease, because it’s new. In five years, this may be just like flu.”

This article was originally published by Yale University. Republished via Futurity.org under Creative Commons License 4.0.