A regular cold and flu season is bad enough when you’ve got kids bringing home germs left and right all winter. But this year, we get to throw an ominous-sounding coronavirus disease into the mix, too. This coronavirus, called COVID-19, has been all over the news for the past month; as parents, what do we need to know about the virus and how can we prepare and protect ourselves and our kids?
Let’s start with the basics
By now, you probably know that COVID-19 is a type of respiratory disease. The symptoms are cold- or flu-like, categorised predominantly by fever, fatigue and a dry cough. Some patients may also have aches and pains, diarrhoea, a sore throat, nasal congestion or a runny nose (although it’s also been noted that a runny nose is a possible but not common symptom of this virus), according to the World Health Organisation:
These symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually. Some people become infected but don’t develop any symptoms and don’t feel unwell. Most people (about 80%) recover from the disease without needing special treatment. Around 1 out of every 6 people who gets COVID-19 becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing.
Experts are still studying how COVID-19 is spread, but findings so far indicate it is spread from person to person through droplets in the air cause by coughing, sneezing or exhaling.
It seems to affect children LESS than adults
We know that young children are considered among the high-risk populations for certain illnesses, such as the flu. But according to the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, from what we know so far, kids are no more susceptible to this coronavirus than adults are; older people seem to be more vulnerable to becoming seriously ill from it.
The exception would be for children (and adults) with pre-existing medical conditions, such as asthma or diabetes, according to the WHO.
Go ahead and stock up on emergency supplies and disinfectant
Having some extra bottled water, non-perishable food items and other emergency supplies is just good practice because we don’t always know when severe weather, natural disasters or other emergencies might occur. And this time of year, it also can’t hurt to keep some bleach or disinfectant on hand to clean any potentially germy surfaces in high traffic areas of your home.
We don’t know yet whether schools or businesses will have to temporarily shut down to help prevent the spread of this coronavirus, but if they do, or should someone in your home become ill with the virus, you’ll be prepared. There’s nothing on fire here at the moment, but it can’t hurt and might help, is what I’m saying.
There’s no need for you (or your kids) to panic
There is—big surprise!—a lot of misinformation out there about COVID-19. It’s good practice, in general, to check your sources before you determine whether something is fake or factual, and this is no different. Remind your older kids that just because they read it on Instagram doesn’t make it so.
For the most reputable and up-to-date information, go directly to the WHO’s COVID-19 page or your own local health department’s website. The WHO’s “situation dashboard,” in particular, is helpful for seeing where the virus has spread around the world. (As of the moment I am writing this, there are only 59 confirmed cases in the United States compared to nearly 79,000 in China.)
Robin Gurwitch, a psychologist with Duke University Medical Centre, told U.S. News & World Report that if your children seem worried about the virus, ask them what they’ve heard and then explain what you know in an age-appropriate way:
“Be honest with kids. Explain that it started in China and people are working very hard to make sure that this virus doesn’t spread here. Let them know it’s like a really bad cold. Tell them what precautions they can take to stay healthy. And then ask them what they think about what you’ve just told them, so you can correct any misperceptions,” Gurwitch said.
It’s a good opportunity, too, to review ways to protect themselves (and others) from germs: Proper hand-washing, coughing and sneezing into the crook of your elbow (not your hand), and keeping your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth.
If you or your kids feel unwell
First and foremost, if anyone if your home feels unwell, they should stay home from work or school. The WHO advises that anyone with a fever, cough and difficulty breathing should seek medical attention. But that doesn’t mean you should rush right out to your doctor’s office or local emergency room at the first sign of a cough. An FAQ on Cedars-Sinai’s website explains:
When at all possible, you should call ahead to your healthcare provider before visiting them so that when you show up, healthcare workers can take the appropriate precautions to immediately isolate you and prevent exposure to others. A phone call to your provider also can clarify your actual risk. Only go to the Emergency Department for serious life-threatening issues like difficulty breathing or chest pain. Most patients who have flu-like symptoms or are worried about the coronavirus can be evaluated in a clinic or an urgent care centre.
If you get a mild case, though, and battle it (or another virus) at home, Lifehacker’s senior health editor Beth Skwarecki has advice for protecting others in the home.
And finally, remember that your kids still have a much higher chance of catching the flu—and although there is currently no medication or vaccine for COVID-19, it’s not too late to get a flu shot.