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Hand-washing 101

When kids and adults alike come into contact with germs, they can become infected just by touching their eyes, nose or mouth. Washing your hands is one of the best ways to stop germs from spreading.

Don’t underestimate the power of hand-washing, says Dr. Reshmi Basu, a CHOC Children’s pediatrician.

Dr. Reshmi Basu, a CHOC Children’s pediatrician

“Besides getting an influenza vaccine, washing your hands is one of the best ways to protect yourself against  the seasonal flu,” said Dr. Basu.

Improper handwashing can also lead to food contamination and foodborne illnesses. But when, how long, and with what should we wash our hands? Dr. Basu offers tips for parents:

Hand wash rules

  • Use warm water and soap for best hand hygiene.
  • Scrub vigorously, and remember the backs of hands, between the fingers, under the nails and the wrists.
  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds — or the time it takes to sing “Happy birthday” twice.
  • Rinse and dry with a clean towel.

When to wash your hands

It’s important to wash your hands frequently throughout the day. However, a few times it’s especially needed:

  • Before and after cooking or eating
  • After using the restroom
  • After cleaning around the house
  • After touching animals, including family pets
  • Before and after visiting or caring for sick friends or relatives
  • After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
  • After changing a diaper
  • After being outside — playing, gardening, walking the dog, etc.

What kind of hand soap is best?

Using a moisturizing hand soap is best during winter months, when more frequent handwashing is necessary, Dr. Basu says. To avoid further drying out the skin, choose a soap labeled “moisturizing” or “conditioning,” she adds.

Are hand sanitizers OK?

The Centers for Disease Control recommends washing hands with soap and whatever whenever possible because handwashing reduces the amounts of all types of germs and chemicals on hands.

But if you’re on the go, and soap and water aren’t available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol that will kill at least 99% of germs.

This article was updated Oct. 15, 2020.

Learn more about CHOC’s Primary Care Network

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Talking politics with your kids: Advice for parents

With election season here, it’s hard to miss the onslaught of media coverage and chatter about political issues and candidates. While this is an important time for our country, it can be overwhelming for parents wondering how to talk to kids about politics.

“Politics are front and center right now, making it a great time to talk to kids about the democratic process,” says Dr. Mery Taylor, a CHOC Children’s pediatric psychologist. “It’s not something that is abstract – we are all watching it unfold. Now that many kids are back in school, there is sure to be buzz about current events. It’s important for parents to get ahead of the information so they can be prepared.”

Starting a conversation with kids about politics

Dr. Taylor encourages parents to start with the basics. Here are some conversation starters she encourages parents to use:

  • What is a democracy?
  • What are the roles of people in elected office?
  • Why is this happening now?

Next, emphasize your personal responsibility as a citizen to vote, Dr. Taylor says.

“Talk to your kids about what it means to have elected officials that represent the diverse society we live in, and how that helps everybody,” she says. “Discuss the values that are important for your family. It is likely your children know who you will be voting for, but why?”

Parents can use a discussion on politics and the election as a way to model their critical thinking process for their children. To do that, Dr. Taylor encourages parents to talk about the values that shape their decision.

“Explain to your children the process of evaluating candidates’ policies and the impact of those policies on individuals, the environment and the American society as a whole,” Dr. Taylor says. “Children and adolescents are naturally curious creatures and you might be surprised by the questions that they will ask. You may find a conversation with your child or teen might even help you to articulate your own views more clearly.”

Parents can also tailor this conversation to their child’s personal interests, Dr. Taylor says.

“Focus on things that your child cares about. Are they passionate about saving turtles? Help them learn about candidates’ views on animal welfare. Do they want to be a business owner someday? Help them research candidates’ views on small business. Are they interested in health and science? Find out about the candidates’ policies on science and education funding,” Dr. Taylor says. “There are sure to be issues that speak to your child’s interest and help them feel connected to the election, and why politics matter as a whole.”

Share your plan to vote with your child. Take them along to the mailbox or polling station, depending on your voting plan.

How to deal with your child’s stress over the election

If you think your child is probably not affected by the election process, think again – this can be an overwhelming and stressful time for children and teens as well. Dr. Taylor offers the following tips for parents worried about how to talk to kids about politics:

  • Acknowledge your children’s feelings. Ask what they feel and why. Listen closely and try to connect with your child’s emotions before problem solving. If they have concerns or fears about a particular issue or how it may affect your family, reassure them that they are safe and that your family will work out any issue together.
  • Keep the conversation positive. Focus on the positive aspects of a candidate or an issue. Take this opportunity to explain to your kids how to voice their opinions with respect, even when he/she doesn’t agree with someone else. Talk about what you believe and why in a respectful way, too. For younger children, keep the conversation light. For teens, ask them what they’ve heard at school, and/or what they’re unclear about – their answers may surprise you.
  • Talk about the election process. Explain to them that everyone has a voice. While they may not be able to vote, encourage your kids to get involved at school or in the community with issues that are important to them, such as the environment or the economy, for example. Let them know their contributions can make a big difference.
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Medical Innovation, Research and Entrepreneurship (MIRE) program ignites high-schoolers’ interest in biotech entrepreneurial field

For two weeks this summer, Leanne Ho, a senior at Oxford Academy in Cypress, immersed herself in the fascinating world of biotechnology and medical device innovation and entrepreneurship.

She was one of 57 sophomore through senior high school students from five different Orange County school districts who participated in the Medical, Innovation, Research and Entrepreneurship (MIRE) program, a joint project of the CHOC Children’s Research Institute, The Young Entrepreneurs OC, and  University Lab Partners .

Leanne led a team of other STEM-motivated high schoolers on a final project: pitching a business idea to a panel of experts that included physicians, investors, university professors and biotech entrepreneurs.

Her team came up with the idea of MedMonkey, an app designed to encourage adolescents living with epilepsy to take their prescribed medications on time by interacting with an animated chimpanzee.

MedMonkey won the final pitch competition and a scholarship to a hands-on laboratory training course at University Lab Partners,  a nonprofit wet lab and medical technology incubator in Irvine.

MedMonkey app
MedMonkey is an app designed to encourage adolescents living with epilepsy to take their prescribed medications on time by interacting with an animated chimpanzee

With her scholarship, Leanne completed the hands-on laboratory training following the MIRE course and earned her digital certification through UCI’s Department of Continuing Education in Molecular Biology Laboratory Techniques. With her new certification, Leanne was able to secure an internship at University Lab Partners this fall.

“Every speaker in the program had different experiences in business, law, research, engineering and science, and it was interesting to learn how the fields were connected to each other and relate back to medicine,” Leanne says of the summer program.

Now, this fall, the program has expanded with 120 high school participants.

Real-world view

Speakers in the fall MIRE program include several Orange County leaders in innovation and medicine who volunteer their time and expertise to give the students a real-world view of the multidisciplinary skills needed to thrive in the biotech entrepreneurial world.

Students immerse themselves in research activities related to bioscience, engineering and medicine. They learn how technology can support diagnosis and treatment plans and learn how environmental factors influence pediatric health.

MIRE is intended to educate the next generation of researchers and help prepare them for the ongoing bioscience and data revolution.

“The CHOC Research Institute wants to inspire the next generation of investigators and STEM leaders in healthcare innovation, potentially laying the groundwork for great strides in translational science, medical device development and basic science research,” says Dr. Terence Sanger, CHOC’s vice president of research and chief scientific officer.

The fall MIRE session will focus on research and allow students to explore pediatric clinical needs. Students will also learn about ethical conduct in research and how to frame a research question, explains Nadine Afari, manager of research programs at CHOC.

The MIRE program is one of many projects that will launch from the partnership between CHOC’s Research Institute and University Lab Partners.

The effort brings together clinical skills, business development skills, hospital management, technology strategy, product ideation, and technology development to help support the larger Orange County biotech and medtech community.

“This immersive program transforms career exploration and discovery for Orange County students interested in pursuing an exciting career in innovation,” says Karin Koch, ecosystem director at University Lab Partners.

One of the goals of MIRE is to create a talent pipeline for the next generation of biotech innovators in the life sciences industry.

The bioscience industry represents the unique intersection of key building blocks for societal and economic progress – extremely high levels of innovation that are saving and improving lives through advancements in biomedical, energy and advanced food and industrial technologies; and expanding a wide mix of employment opportunities with wages and incomes that support a high standard of living, Koch says.

The MIRE program is delivered through the North Orange County ROP (NOCROP) and College and Career Advantage in South Orange County, with student participants getting 50 hours of instruction; 10 hours of dedicated mentorship; and 20 hours of clinical needs assessments, project proposals/presentations, literature reviews and intellectual property challenges. Students earn 2.5 University of California-transferrable credits for their participation.

“By connecting our most precious commodity, our students, to businesses and industry leaders who will invest in them, this partnership benefits us all,” says Terri Giamarino, superintendent of NOCROP. “We want our students to remain in Orange County and be a part of our growth and sustainability.”

Leanne, who plans to study biology in college, said the program opened her eyes to many future career opportunities.

“I was able to create a new understanding and expand on what I already know about medicine,” said Leanne, who for now is interested in a possible career in forensic science.

Learn more about research at CHOC

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20+ tips for maintaining and strengthening a family bond during a hospitalization

We understand how important it is to visit loved ones during a hospitalization, especially a child’s. However, for the safety of our patients, families, physicians and staff, CHOC Children’s strictly enforces limited visitation on our campus during times such as flu season and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our pediatric psychologists and child life specialists have teamed up to offer families the following creative ways to stay connected throughout a hospitalization:

  1. Phone calls and video chats are often the easiest ways to stay in touch with a hospitalized loved one. If a patient does not have access to a smart device, the Cherese Mari Laulhere Child Life Department can make special arrangements.
  2. Explore new apps to stay in touch – does the child or teen in your life love using WhatsApp, Messenger, Google Hangouts, Snapchat or other apps? Download their favorite app as an easy way to stay in touch their preferred way.
  3. Send an e-card to a patient at CHOC Children’s Hospital.
  4. Use the voice recorder on your smartphone to sing your child’s favorite song, read them a short story, or tell them goodnight or good morning. The parent or guardian who is at the child’s bedside can play the messages on your behalf.
  5. Write to each other in a journal. The child can write a note or draw a picture, and then send the notebook home with the visiting caregiver. Any family members who are at home and unable to visit the hospital can write messages or draw photos in the notebook, and the visiting caregiver can bring it back to the hospital for the child to read.
  6. Assign clinical family liaisons to update non-visiting caregivers or other family members on the patient’s status or call them during rounding.
  7. Family members who cannot be at a patient’s bedside may be comforted by visualizing the space their loved one is in. CHOC has a library of experience videos that can help family members – whether preparing for a visit themselves or not – learn more about CHOC.
  8. Setting up a CaringBridge page can help families share updates and photos with loved ones near and far.
  9. Use Zoom’s whiteboard feature to draw pictures together, write a story or play Pictionary.
  10. Use an online game sharing app to play your favorite board game together online. If a child doesn’t have a laptop available during their hospital stay, their child life specialist can help secure one to borrow.
  11. Pick a craft – anything from painting to decorating a coaster – that all family members can do together via Zoom or video call.
  12. Create a family gratitude journal, where each family member picks three things that they are grateful for every day. Share them with each other via a notebook that is carried from home to the hospital by the visiting caregiver, or with a free journaling app.
  13. Do a scavenger hunt via video chat with different family members. You can each try to find certain items in your spaces that start with a specific letter.
  14. Create coping boxes that kids can use when they feel sad or worried. Some items to consider adding are bubbles, coloring pages, Play-Doh and fidget spinners.
  15. Play a virtual game of Simon Says.
  16. Have family story time through video chat. You can do this at bedtime so family members not at the child’s bedside can participate in their bedtime routine.
  17. Have a virtual, interactive watch party for your favorite TV show or movie using Netflix Party or Disney+’s GroupWatch. These services allow you to synchronize your show or movie with friends and family, and chat while you’re watching.
  18. Create and send a personalized Build-A-Bear with a special “get well soon” message.
  19. Create virtual rooms together using Google Slides. Add furniture, people and links to different activities or games. There are many helpful and free tutorials online for creating these rooms.
  20. Create video diaries to keep each other updated on what you’re doing throughout the day – it could be something exciting or mundane. Share with each other via social media or use a free app to string together your video snippets throughout the day. There are also free apps that will allow you to create a calendar showing a photo of something fun or unique you did each day.
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How to celebrate Halloween safely during COVID-19

As temperatures begin to cool and the community prepares for Halloween celebrations, CHOC Children’s experts provide the following recommendations for how to celebrate Halloween safely amid COVID-19.

“Celebrating holidays such as Halloween is a treasured part of childhood, and we want all children and families to make special memories together. It’s important to heed safety precautions and celebrate safely,” says Dr. Jasjit Singh, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at CHOC Children’s. “While many people feel restless after months of stay at home orders and life looking so much different than it used to, now is the time to be as vigilant as ever in curbing the spread of COVID-19.”

These recommendations are meant to supplement, rather than replace, any local or statewide rules and regulations.

Celebrate virtually

Use technology such as FaceTime, Zoom or Skype to enjoy festivities such as costume contests, pumpkin carvings or festive meals together.

Or, have a virtual, interactive watch party for your favorite Halloween movie using Netflix Party or Disney+’s GroupWatch. These services allow you to synchronize your show or movie with friends and family, and chat while you’re watching.

Celebrating virtually is especially important if you are celebrating with family members over the age of 65, or those who are immunocompromised and have underlying conditions that put them at greater risk of complications from COVID-19.

Festive outdoor celebrations

Carving or decorating pumpkins outside with neighbors, from a safe distance, is considered a low-risk activity by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Families could also consider organizing a Halloween scavenger hunt where kids can search for festive items as they walk from house to house, admiring decorations from a distance.

If you visit a pumpkin patch or apple orchard, ensure the location requires frequent hand-washing or hand sanitizer use, masks are required and social distancing is maintained.

Wear a mask

It’s important to remember that a Halloween costume mask is not a substitute for a proper face covering, says Dr. Belinda Dao, a CHOC Children’s pediatrician. “Masks that do not meet the stated criteria from the CDC are not appropriate face masks,” Dr. Dao says.

Pediatrician Dr. Marnie Granados adds, “protective masks should cover a child’s nose and mouth, be secure under their chin, and fit snugly against the sides of their face.”

Learn more about the important of wearing a proper face covering this Halloween.


Per the CDC, a moderate-risk activity is a one-way trick-or-treating path where individually wrapped goodie bags are lined up at the end of driveways or sidewalks for kids to grab and go while maintaining social distancing.

Anyone preparing goodie bags should practice proper hand-washing before and after.

Activities to avoid this Halloween

Traditional trick-or-treating where treats are handed to children who go door to do is not recommended by the CDC, nor are trunk-or-treat events where treats are given to children from trunks of cars lined up in parking lots. These celebrations don’t allow for proper social distancing.

Likewise, indoor events such as costume parties and haunted houses are not recommended during COVID-19.

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