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.
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person.
While the situation is swiftly evolving, and experts are learning more daily, there is no evidence that suggests children are more susceptible to the virus. There are a few possibilities as to why, experts say.
“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 University 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 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.
Here, Murray answers some questions parents might have about the virus and how it affects children:
What preventative measures should parents practice with their kids?
“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 says.
Frequent hand washing, especially with toddlers and kids who are in daycare, 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.
“We recommend cleaning surface areas with products that are documented disinfectants, like Lysol, or bleach-based products for surfaces that can handle bleach.”
When should parents keep their children home from school?
The short answer: it’s not much different today than any other time. “Any fever, cough, respiratory symptoms—these are all reasons to stay home,” Murray says.
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.
When should a parent call the doctor?
Call your 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. Care for the infection is directed toward the symptoms: Tylenol, ibuprofen, and hydration with fluids, like chicken soup.”
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 seriousness of disease, because it’s new.
Do COVID-19 symptoms differ from flu symptoms?
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 says. If influenza is diagnosed early, within the first 48 hours, then there are medicines that may help your child get better faster. “It doesn’t get rid of the flu all together, but it can make your child feel better a little faster.”
Are there additional protective measures for children with chronic pulmonary or respiratory illness, like cystic fibrosis?
“For those families, don’t treat this any differently than flu or other highly contagious respiratory illnesses. Wash your hands and avoid sick contacts.”
What should we logically prepare for?
“It’s a moving target,” Murray says. 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 seriousness of disease, because it’s new. In five years, this may be just like flu or RSV.”
Source: Yale University