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If you’re worried about what’s happening and what’s to come, you’re not alone. Aside from getting basic supplies and handling childcare, parents are also sorting through the precautions they can take to protect themselves and their families, including social distancing. They're also figuring out how to process this ongoing global event with their children.
How can I protect my family?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that families take common precautions known to help prevent the spread of infections. These include:
- Hand washing: Encourage children to wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, blowing their nose, coughing, or sneezing. (If you don't have access to soap, alcohol-based hand sanitizer, as long as it's 60 percent alcohol, will suffice.)
- Avoiding sick people: Keep kids as far away as possible from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
- Cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces: These include tables, hard-backed chairs, doorknobs, handles, light switches, toilets, and sinks.
- Washing plush toys: Follow manufacturer's instructions. Launder on warmest recommended setting, and dry completely.
- Wear a face mask in public settings: The CDC recommends wearing simple, non-surgical cloth face coverings in all public settings, such as supermarkets, where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. See our article on how to get your child to wear a mask. (Face coverings should not be worn by children under 2 years old or anyone not capable of removing them on their own.)
- Practice "social distancing"(see below)
What is social distancing, and what does that mean for my family?
To slow the spread of the virus – and to prevent a scenario where medical facilities become overwhelmed because of a sudden spike in sick people – experts are recommending that everyone take steps to reduce close contact with others outside their immediate family. Think of it as "physical distancing" instead.
Social distancing doesn't mean you have to lock your family in the hous, but it does mean weighing physical interactions with others carefully, staying away from large crowds (especially indoors), and making sometimes uncomfortable changes to your family's activities and plans.
Even though kids are at lower risk of getting seriously ill from the coronavirus, it's important to remember they could potentially spread the virus to someone more vulnerable, such as an elderly relative or medically fragile schoolmate. By taking individual precautions, we can help protect others.
There is currently some debate over exactly how to implement social distancing on an individual level, and official guidelines lack specifics. In general, expert advice includes:
- Avoid large gatherings of people. Authorities in many communities are gradually opening businesses, restaurants, and parks and safety guidelines have increased the number of people who can safely gather together. As some states begin to slowly open up, it's still a good idea for families to stay clear of more informal large gatherings.The advice on playdates is changing almost as fast as case counts. Follow local advice to protect your family. Stay tuned for detailed guidance on how back-to-school may look this fall.
- Get outside, just keep your distance. You and your kids still need fresh air and exercise, it helps reduce stress and bolster the body's immune system. Just try to keep at least 6 feet between your family and others. Consider going for a hike, or playing catch together at the park, only if you can maintain distance from others.
- Minimize trips to closed-in areas: Indoor playgrounds, trampoline parks, museums, and other places where people gather in close quarters are best avoided. Germs spread more easily indoors. Obviously, some trips are unavoidable such as going to the grocery store, but try to go at times when there will be fewer people, and don't bring your children if you can safely avoid it. And remember to wash your hands before you go and when you return.
- Consider limits on eating out. A large number of states have ordered bars and restaurants to cease all operations other than serving take-out meals. Speaking to CNN, Dr. William Schaffner at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville recommended avoiding crowded establishments, and considering ordering to-go or takeout. But Dr. Asaf Bitton, a primary care physician and executive director of Ariadne Labs who wrote in Medium, said cooking at home is safer. He suggests buying restaurant gift cards for later use to support local businesses.
- Connect digitally with friends and family members. The New York Times suggests using FaceTime or Skype to check in with grandparents and friends who may be feeling isolated. Your kids could also chat with their friends online, or do parallel activities together over FaceTime such as coloring or playing with Legos.
These measures may sound difficult, even extreme. However, this is not forever. If everyone does their part now to help slow the spread of COVID-19, we can save lives and improve our chances of returning to a normal routine sooner rather than later.
Symptoms of coronavirus in babies and children
Coronavirus symptoms in babies and children are similar to those in adults. The difference is that children typically have milder symptoms than adults. They can include:
- Runny nose
- Fever or chills
- Muscle pain
- Sore throat
- Difficulty breathing
- Vomiting and diarrhea (in rare cases)
Who is at risk?
While people of every age are at risk, so far, this coronavirus has proven to be most severe to the elderly and those with preexisting illnesses. Relatively few children are known to have contracted the virus, and those who have tested positive typically had mild symptoms.
Because this virus is so new, we still don't know whether some children may be more at risk for serious complications from the coronavirus, such as those with underlying medical conditions or special healthcare needs. Reports of rare clusters of COVID-19-exposed children and adolescents being admitted to intensive care units with acute multisystem inflammatory conditions have researchers working overtime to collect more data and fully understand causality.
If you live in the United States, your family's risk of being exposed to coronavirus is directly related to the rate of transmission in your immediate community. Cases of COVID-19 and community spread are being reported in all states and are expected to increase as the outbreak expands.
There are several maps available to help you pinpoint COVID-19 case locations. Among the clearest is the New York Times map based on CDC data.
What should I do if I think my baby or child has the coronavirus?
Stay home and call the doctor for medical advice if you, your baby, or toddler:
- Develop coronavirus symptoms, and
- You think you've been exposed to the virus (for example, if you've recently traveled to an area where COVID-19 is spreading, or you've been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19).
It's important to call ahead so your healthcare provider can take steps to prevent others from becoming infected or exposed to the virus if you or your child need to go into the clinic for an appointment or testing.
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion or inability to arouse
- Bluish lips or face
What we know about the coronavirus
COVID-19 is so new that there is much we don't know about how the virus works and how it spreads. Here's what we do know:
- Symptoms can be mild, especially in children. Coronavirus symptoms are indistinguishable from other common respiratory illnesses. Some people with coronavirus don't show any symptoms at all. Others develop pneumonia, which can be life-threatening.
It has both deadly and mild-mannered relatives. The virus is new, but it's part of a family of viruses that originates in animals and is known to sometimes be deadly to humans (such as severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, another coronavirus that killed almost 800 people in the early 2000s but has since disappeared).
However, some coronaviruses aren't very dangerous at all. Health authorities are still trying to figure out exactly how deadly and contagious COVID-19 is compared to other coronaviruses. One estimate is that about 16 percent of people develop serious illness from COVID-19, but new estimates are appearing as additional information is gathered.
So far, the U.S., India, and Brazil have the highest number of reported infections, but cases have been recorded in 213 countries and are spreading widely and rapidly in many of them.
The coronavirus cases have exceeded16 million around the world and these numbers are expected to keep rising. If you want to know the latest numbers and distribution of cases, see the CDC, the World Health Organization, or the New York Times COVID-19 map. Most of the deaths are of older folks with underlying health problems.
U.S. cases are increasing. Currently, more than 4,000,000 people in the U.S. are confirmed to have coronavirus, a number that is expected to continue rising as the virus continues to spread. More than 145,000 people are reported to have died. Health authorities are carefully monitoring those who are sick and doing everything in their power to stop the disease from spreading.
So far, relatively few young children are known to have been infected. Recent CDC data shows a total of six confirmed COVID-19 deaths of children under the age of 14.
How to talk to kids about the coronavirus
Knowing how to handle your child's questions and fears while you may be feeling anxious yourself can be hard. If you're struggling as a parent to explain what's going on in the world, you're not alone.
It’s important to be open about the coronavirus with your kids. As the CDC says in its guidance on talking with kids about COVID-19, “parents, family members, school staff, and other trusted adults play an important role in helping our children make sense of what they hear in a way that is honest, accurate, and minimizes anxiety or fear.”
Here are some tips to help you help your little ones keep all the worrisome news in perspective:
Don't dismiss your child's fears. While it's important not to plant fears in their minds that they don't already have, it's equally important to recognize and honor that they may be feeling anxious about what they've heard about coronavirus, either at school, on the news, or from friends.
Ask them what they know and what they don't understand. Sometimes children may not mention things they're afraid of, but that doesn't mean they're not worried. It's always a good practice to allow kids the opportunity to talk about what scares them.
Clear up misconceptions. Plenty of rumors and myths about the origins and details of the virus are circulating, such as how you catch it, the risk of catching it, and what happens if you get sick. It's important to share the truth with your kids and clear up misinformation, (No, this isn't an "Asian" thing. No, eating garlic won't prevent COVID-19, etc.).
Like with most topics and kids, the honest answer is the answer that will give the most comfort (a child can tell when you're beating around the bush or bending the truth). You can be prepared to clear things up or field the questions by being informed.
- Assure them that adults are working to keep us all safe. There are loads of reports available highlighting all the measures that are being taken to try to contain the virus and to ensure everyone is as prepared as possible should the virus not be contained. Sometimes children need to be reminded of this.
- Turn the TV and news off.The 24-hour news cycle can be upsetting to children, especially since the tone of most news is dramatized and focuses more on what has gone wrong and much less on the positives.
- Stay calm.Kids aren't the only ones affected by the news. If you're feeling panicked about the potential for an outbreak and all the scary unknowns, do everything you can to process your anxiety in healthy ways. Do your best to stay positive and confident in the presence of your children.
- Don't underestimate the power of hugs and cuddles. Nonverbal reassurance can go a long way. Older kids, especially, may not know to ask for physical reassurance, so pay attention to cues that it's time for a good, reassuring hug, or cuddle on the couch in front of a funny movie or good book.
- Teach them to wash their hands properly. Twenty seconds is the magic number, using soap and warm water. Hand sanitizers that are at least 60 percent alcohol are a good hygienic supplement as well. You can't tell if someone has coronavirus by looking at them, the same way a surface can look and feel clean but still have germs on it. So stress basic hygiene and practice it with them.
The coronavirus story will continue to evolve over the days ahead. Your kids will hear more about it from all angles. Being there for them with a willing ear, clear information, and love will help them – and help you weather the storm.
Staying informed about the latest developments involving COVID-19 can help you continue to protect your family. For more information, see The New York Times, the CDC, and the WHO for consistent updates on the situation.
our site understands that the coronavirus pandemic is an evolving story and that your questions will change over time. We'll continue asking moms and dads in our Community what they want to know, and we'll get the answers from experts to keep them – and you – informed and supported.
This story was updated on July 28th to reflect the latest data from the CDC, the current guidance from many government and health organizations, and to suggest how you and your family can practice “social distancing.”
our site News & Analysis is an assessment of recent news designed to cut through the hype and get you what you need to know.