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Let’s Talk About Our Kids and COVID-19

Let’s Talk About Our Kids and COVID-19

March 15, 2020

As we begin to better understand the impact of the novel coronavirus in our community, parents can at least breathe a huge sigh of relief.  It appears that COVID-19 is not a huge threat to children.  It appears to have a similar impact on kids as did previous coronavirus respiratory infections causing SARS and MERS in the recent past.  Children were by and large spared then, and it appears the same is true now.  It is important to respect the seriousness of this pandemic and to do all that we can to limit community spread, especially since older adults are very vulnerable to severe illness from COVID-19.

What is the novel coronavirus and how is it spread?

COVID-19 is a new coronavirus strain that humans have not encountered before.  It is a respiratory virus which is spread in droplets from coughing, sneezing, and other means of sharing respiratory secretions.  These droplets meet people from an infected person directly or indirectly from contaminated surfaces. 

What are the symptoms in kids infected with COVID-19? Does my kid need to get tested?

Kids typically have mild symptoms of a cold or flu. These symptoms are typically comprised of fever, cough and runny nose/sneezing.  It is possible to have more serious symptoms of a pneumonia (cold symptoms with fever plus signs of respiratory distress) but is less likely in kids.  Per the CDC, testing is important for any child sick with fever and cough AND contact in the past 14 days with a confirmed or highly suspected case of COVID-19.  If this applies to you, please contact the office BEFORE coming in so that we can best prevent spread.  Kids with just fever and cold symptoms are not routinely tested for COVID-19.

Who is most at risk for infection and complications from COVID-19?

Adults have a much higher rate of infection and severity of illness as compared to children.  Chinese data shows us that close to 90% of cases were people ages 30-80yo, around 8% in teenagers, and less than 1% in children under the age of 10yo.  Data is limited, but similar rates have been reported in the US.

As of March 13th, 2020, there have been close to 135,000 cases of COVID-19 worldwide and no deaths in children under the age of 10yo.  There is one reported death of a teenager in China, but details are not available.   The risk of severe illness and mortality increases with increasing age of adults and having underlying health conditions.

What children are most at risk from complications from COVID-19?

Overall kids seem to have mild cold or flu-like symptoms with COVID-19 infection.  As is true with any respiratory infection, we consider certain kids to be high risk for complications.  These include kids with underlying respiratory conditions such as asthma or chronic lung disease, kids with congenital heart disease, and kids who are immunocompromised due to chemotherapy, diabetes, or the need to take chronic immunosuppressive medications.

I thought kids get colds from coronavirus infections every winter anyway?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in people and certain animals. There are human coronaviruses that commonly cause colds each year.  Rarely, animal coronaviruses can infect people and then spread between people.  This happened in the past with SARS and MERS, and it is now happening with COVID-19.  There is no overlap with COVID-19 and the “regular” coronaviruses that occur every year.  Therefore, kids and adults do not have any previous immunity to this virus.

If kids aren’t at risk for severe illness from COVID-19, why are schools closing?

Kids are good at shedding and spreading viruses, especially respiratory viruses like COVID-19.  Since kids don’t get very sick from COVID-19 they are able to continue with their normal activities and easily spread it around the community.  With higher rates of community spread, more adults get sick and potentially overwhelm the healthcare system in a short period of time.  Closing schools and other forms of social distancing for a period to help to “flatten the curve” or decrease the fast rates of severe cases of COVID-19 infection in adults.  

How should I talk to my kids about COVID-19?

  • Find out what they already know.   “Are people in school talking?” “What are they saying?” “Have you heard grown-ups talking about a new sickness going around?” 
  • Offer comfort and truth.  Focus on helping your child feel safe.  Don’t offer more detail than your child is interested in.  If you don’t know the answer, say so.  Check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website together with your child to get fact related answers to specific questions.
  • Speak calmly and reassuringly.  “Most people feel like they have a cold or flu.” Kids are perceptive and pick up on it when parent worry or seem upset.
  • Allow them space to share their fears.

What should I DO with my kids during the COVID-19 pandemic?

  • DO give kids thing to do to feel in control.  Washing hands for 20 seconds.  Coughing into elbow. Avoid touching your mouth, face, and nose.
  • DO maintain a normal daily routine that mimics the school day as much as possible.  Normal bedtime, normal awakening time.  Online learning, reading books, home-based physical education, healthy eating.
  • DO maintain and respect the concept of social distancing. Schools are closed for a reason.  Rethink large playdates right now.  Cancel that big birthday party at the local trampoline gym. 

What should I NOT DO with my kids during the COVID-19 pandemic?

  • DON’T overwhelm your kids with excess information and your own anxieties and fears.  Adults have a hard-enough time staying rational and calm with excess information, imagine what it is like for a child with no proper context and life experience.
  • DON’T pile into the car and go visit the grandparents.  Remember, kids are shedders and spreaders, and we don’t want to possibly infect our older family members who are more vulnerable. This is a great time to use electronic communication for family visits.
  • DON’T panic.  As history has taught us, all pandemics eventually end.  It’s important for us all to be responsible and knowledgeable neighbors as we each do our part to limit the spread of this virus within the community. 

For more information and the latest updates on COVID-19 please visit www.cdc.gov

Peace and Wellness to all,

Dr. Allison Foster, MD FAAP

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