Covid-19 has gone from a completely unknown novel coronavirus to what seems like a mini pandemic in a manner of months.
Since the first cases were identified in the Chinese province of Hubei at the end of 2019, the illness has spread to other parts of the world. The death toll from Covid-19 is currently at around 1,100 people worldwide, but the infection rate has begun to slow, according to the Chinese government.
As parents, a new illness like this is especially scary. But while the deaths are indeed frightening, it is important to remember that the deaths are only part of the story. There have been about 45,000 people infected, but the virus tends to only be fatal for elderly people or people who have preexisting conditions that have compromised their immune systems already. It’s the deaths that make the headlines, but thousands of people also recover from Covid-19.
It’s also important to keep Covid-19 in proper perspective. Whenever a new viral disease is discovered, it grabs headlines and gets people in a panic, but influenza — the flu — still infects millions of people around the world every year and kills thousands of those people without making headlines.
With all that said, as a parent you should strive to keep your children safe from all illnesses as much as you can. Since there are many similarities between the flu and Covid-19, the same precautions you take for the flu can help you steer clear of Covid-19, as well.
Both diseases cause symptoms like a runny nose, sore throat, cough, and fever. They can both be more severe for some people than others and they both can lead to pneumonia or breathing difficulties.
To keep your child safe from flu, Covid-19 and any other viral infections, use the following precautions.
By far the most important thing you can do as a parent is to make hand washing a normal part of everyday life for your children. A lot of people get stuck on the concept of washing their hands after using the bathroom or before eating, but you and your children should be washing your hands much more often than that.
Get into and get your kids into the habit of washing your hands every time you come inside from being outdoors, especially if you’ve been to shared public places. In addition to that, wash your hands after using the bathroom, before eating meals or snacks and after you’ve been around anyone who you suspect might be sick. It’s also a good idea to just wash your hands at random. They can never be too clean.
When you wash them, scrub all of your hands including the backs and between your fingers for about 20 seconds before rinsing them.
Carry hand sanitizer with you for when you’re not near a sink.
A strong immune system is usually enough to deal with most viral illnesses. To make sure your children’s immune system is at its strongest, make sure they get a healthy diet, plenty of exercise and adequate sleep.
Starting these healthy habits when they’re young will ensure they are ingrained in your kids throughout adolescence and into adulthood.
Currently, there is no vaccination for Covid-19, but you should get your child vaccinated against the flu, as it is far more common than the new viral infection and can be just as dangerous to people who are unprepared.
While it won’t be easy, try to teach your kids not to touch their mouths, eyes or noses with their hands unless they have just washed their hands. You can encourage them to scratch an itch on their faces with their knees or wrists instead. There are less likely to be virus-causing germs on these other body parts.
Carry tissues with you for wiping their faces when necessary and throw the tissues away immediately after using them.
Try to also teach your children to be cognizant of the things they touch while out in public. You don’t want to turn them into germaphobes, but it’s a good idea to get them thinking about what they’re doing with their hands. Little children love to touch everything and even put random things in their mouths, so the earlier you can get them started about thinking of the consequences of doing this, the better.
You can try to preemptively keep their hands busy by giving them things to hold or holding their hands with yours. Getting them to wear gloves might be an option, especially in cooler weather when they would likely be wearing them anyway. Have multiple pairs so you can wash a pair when you get home and have another pair ready to go for next time.
You might also want to get into the habit of carrying disinfectant wipes with you to wipe down things like tables and seats out in public.
To the best of your ability, avoid people who appear to be sick. This doesn’t mean you have to avoid going outside altogether (unless there is a public health advisory telling you to do that). For the most part, you just have to be aware of people around you who exhibit symptoms of illness like coughing, sneezing or having a runny nose. As much as you can, keep your distance from people in public who seem to have symptoms.
Remember that it’s ultimately impossible to stay away from everyone who is sick. People who have viral infections like flu and possibly Covid-19 may be contagious before they even realize they are sick.
If you are hosting people at your home, politely ask guests not to come if they are sick. Keep a bottle of hand sanitizer by the door and ask people to use it when they arrive.
Keep any family members who have a cough or fever at home. It’s probably not Covid-19, but whatever it happens to be, it is likely contagious. Keeping your children at home will allow them to recover faster and help others avoid getting sick.
What you should do if your child does come down with a fever and cough.
Call your doctor’s office for advice that is specific to your child and your community. If your doctor’s office recommends you come in for a checkup, you should do that.
If your doctor’s office does not feel like your child needs to be checked, you can help them feel better by:
- making sure they stay hydrated either by drinking water or apple juice regularly or sucking on popsicles if their throat is too sore for drinking;
- using acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fever;
- using a humidifier to help with congestion;
- making sure they rest (which does not include watching TV or using an electronic device all day).
Although it’s tempting to get over-the-counter cold medication, try to limit its usage in kids under 6 years old. These medications don’t actually help small children much and can have adverse side effects. For children over a year, honey can soothe a cough and salt water drops can help with stuffy noses.
Watch for warning signs of problems, and seek medical attention if these occur:
- trouble breathing such as rapid or heavy breathing, sucking in around the neck or ribs, looking pale or bluish;
- severe cough that won’t stop;
- high fever that won’t come down with acetaminophen or ibuprofen;
- unusual sleepiness;
- irritability or pain that you cannot soothe;
- refusal to take fluids, or any signs of dehydration such as having a dry mouth, producing no tears when crying and not urinating at least every six hours.
Other warning signs include unusual rashes, vomiting or diarrhea or anything else that is out of the ordinary and concerns you.
Most importantly, don’t panic. There is a lot of misinformation going around about Covid-19. To keep up to date with the most accurate information, check reliable sources like the World Health Organization website and call your doctor if you have any questions or concerns.
Covid-19 might seem scary, but keeping your child protected from it involves doing a lot of the same things you would normally do to protect them from getting a common cold. Be vigilant and your kids and you should be safe.