Because it's so hard to escape news about the new coronavirus, many parents might think the illness is already at their child's bedroom door. Thankfully, preliminary studies have shown that babies and children are not getting seriously sick from COVID-19. In fact, there have been zero pediatric deaths connected with the virus to date.
Still, having a sick kid at home can make an otherwise unfazed parent anxious about what to do.
Health officials have released some guidelines to help decipher what is likely a common cold versus potential coronavirus symptoms – and when to take action.
If your child is healthy and your school is open, they can attend as usual. As has always been the case, if your child has a fever, they should stay home. Chances are high that it is not the coronavirus, but they are still contagious.
Many schools and pediatric offices are recommending that children with a persistent cough or runny nose should remain at home as well. Although that might seem more extreme – what preschooler isn't a boogery mess most days?! – it's simply an added step to mitigating risk.
"Not only is staying home and resting the best way to get better, but also you don't want to panic others by having your child cough in their child's face," said Dr. Claire McCarthy, MD, a primary care pediatrician who is also a professor at Harvard University.
In these cases, you should follow the health guidelines of your child's daycare or school in determining when to return. Typically, they have to be fever-free, without the help of medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, for at least 24 hours.
If your child has a fever and cough, you should handle it as you normally would. If the symptoms are not ones that would normally prompt a visit to the doctor's office, there's no reason to do so now.
However, there are warning signs that, if exhibited in your child, warrant a call to your doctor or potentially a visit to their office.
You should reach out to your pediatrician if your child has:
Unless there is a specific public health advisory in your area, you do not need to go to extreme measures, like a self-imposed quarantine, to avoid people who are sick. "This does not mean holing up in your house, skipping school or daycare, and declining every birthday party invitation," McCarthy said.
Although much is unknown about COVID-19, what is known is that it spreads similarly to the flu. Thus, the same precautions you are advised to take every year to avoid spreading the flu are the same ones that can keep you safe from the coronavirus. The only trick is teaching young kids how to be mindful of these best practices:
Make sure they wash their hands. Remind them to wash their hands before eating, after using the bathroom, after being in public spaces, and after being around people who might be sick. They should use soap and water for 20 seconds, and a common trick is to have them sing the "Happy Birthday" song for the duration of their hand-washing.
Make sure they don't touch their faces with their hands. "This is easier said than done, I admit," McCarthy said. "Make a game out of it — have them itch with their knees instead." Also, carry tissues for wiping mouths and noses and have them ready.
Make sure that when they cough, they do so into their elbow. Teach your kids not to cough on or in their hands, and if they do, they need to wash them immediately. Instead, teach them about the "cough pocket," otherwise known as the crook of their elbow, which is the best way to avoid spreading germs when they cough or sneeze.
Make sure they don't touch too many public surfaces. Again, this might seem futile for parents of young kids. "Little hands seem to instinctively reach for everything around them, so you'll need to be creative," McCarthy said. "Bring things for them to hold instead, or hold hands with them. Have them wear gloves." And in some climates, they'd wear gloves anyway. Just be sure to wash them frequently.