Coronavirus: What parents should know

We know how frightening it may be for parents to hear news reports about the 2019 novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). Get answers to your frequently asked questions – and some peace of mind – in this Q & A with CHOC Children’s infectious disease experts.

What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is a disease caused by a novel strain of coronavirus. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses and commonly infect people around the world with mild upper respiratory infections. Sometimes coronaviruses that infect animals can evolve and become a new human coronavirus strain. These can cause more severe illness. The current outbreak began in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China and has spread to other countries, including the U.S.

Who is at risk for COVID-19 infection?
Mostly people older than 60 and those with pre-existing health conditions are at greater risk. Additionally, people who have had contact with people confirmed to have COVID-19.

At this time, there are not many cases in children. Children who did have the virus tend to have mild symptoms. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, few children with COVID-19 have had to be hospitalized. However, severe illness has been reported in children, most often in infants less than a year.

How do you get COVID-19?
We are still learning exactly how COVID-19 spreads. What we do know though that the virus is spread mainly from person-to-person contact. This can happen when people within 6 feet of each other inhale respiratory droplets produced when someone speaks, coughs or sneezes.

COVID-19 is thought to be spread primarily through inhaling droplets produced when someone coughs or sneezes or by transmission between people in close contact.

Can someone spread the virus without being sick?
The CDC reports that recent studies show a significant portion of individuals with COVID-19 lack symptoms. Even the people who eventually develop symptoms can pass the virus to others before showing symptoms. This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity—for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing—even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms.

Can I get COVID-19 from touching an object?
This is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. However, it is possible that someone who touches their nose, mouth or eyes after touching a surface with the virus on it could possibly get the virus.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19 infection?
Symptoms can include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Symptoms typically appear two to 14 days after exposure.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the symptoms of COVID-19 are similar in children and adults. However, children with confirmed COVID-19 have generally presented with mild symptoms.  Reported symptoms in children include cold-like symptoms, such as fever, runny nose, and cough. Vomiting and diarrhea have also been reported.

How can I protect my family from COVID-19?
With no vaccine currently available, the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed. It’s also important to take preventative steps:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. Get more information on hand-washing — and here’s a fun graphic.
  • The CDC recommends laundering items including washable plush toys as appropriate following the manufacturer’s instructions. When possible, use the warmest appropriate water setting for the items and let them dry completely. Laundry from an ill person can be washed with other people’s items.
  • Check out this list of how to prepare your household for a potential COVID-19 outbreak.
Practicing proper cough and sneeze etiquette can help prevent the spread of illness.

My family has upcoming travel plans. Should we cancel?
We recommend following the CDC’s guidance for travel.

Should we stay away from gatherings like church, sporting events or amusement parks? What about smaller gatherings?
Recently, some communities have begun gradual reopening efforts of some businesses and places of worship in accordance with state guidelines, a modification of initial statewide stay-at-home orders.

Nonetheless, people are encouraged to watch for symptoms, avoid crowds and maintain proper hand-washing habits. The CDC recommends people avoid gathering in groups.

Here’s a roundup of activity ideas to keep kids entertained, educated and busy during school closures.

Should my children and I wear masks?
The CDC recommends cloth face coverings in public settings in places like grocery stores and pharmacies where social distancing measures can be difficult to maintain. These face coverings can slow the spread of COVID-19, and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others. Children under the age of 2 years should not wear cloth face coverings.

A May 23 order from the Orange County health officer mandated face coverings be worn in public. This order doesn’t apply to children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing,  is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the cloth face-covering without assistance; persons with a medical or mental health condition, or development disability that prevents wearing a cloth face-covering.

Social distancing and proper hand-washing are still critical.

Here’s guidance from the CDC on how to properly wear a cloth face covering, as well as tutorials on how to make your own mask.

N-95 or surgical masks are not recommended for public use, as supplies are needed by healthcare workers and first responders.

My kids are worried about COVID-19. What can I do?
Check out these tips from a CHOC psychologist about reducing children’s anxiety about COVID-19.

This comic book was developed to help kids understand COVID-19 and lessen their fears.

The Orange County Health Care Agency has developed some kid-friendly infographics to help children understand what they can do to help stay well: English | Spanish

What should I do if I think my child has COVID-19?
Call your healthcare professional if your child has a fever, in addition to a cough or breathing difficulty, and has had close contact with a person known to have COVID-19, or you live in or have recently traveled to an area with an ongoing spread of the virus.

Do not go to the doctor’s office without calling first. Your provider will work with the local healthcare agency to determine whether testing is necessary.

Parents who suspect their child may have COVID-19 should call their healthcare provider before going to the doctor’s office.

Can my child be tested for COVID-19?
If your child has a cough and fever, particularly with underlying health issues, call your doctor to discuss if testing is needed.

How is COVID-19 treated?
There is no specific antiviral treatment recommended for COVID-19. People with COVID-19 should receive supportive care to help relieve symptoms. For severe cases, treatment should include care to support vital organ functions.

What is the link between COVID-19 and MIS-C?
Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) is a condition where different body parts become inflamed, and many children with MIS-C have previously been diagnosed with or exposed to COVID-19. Scientists are still studying the correlation, but this Q&A with a CHOC pediatric infectious disease specialist answers parents’ most common MIS-C questions.

Can I transmit COVID-19 to my baby through breastmilk?
Current guidance from the CDC states that a mother who has been confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19 should take all precautions to avoid spreading the virus to her infant. Learn more here.

Can I transmit COVID-19 to my pets?
Until experts learn more about how this virus affects animals, treat pets as you would other human family members to protect them from a possible infection. The CDC offers the following guidance:

  • Do not let pets interact with people or other animals outside the household.
  • Keep cats indoors when possible to prevent them from interacting with other animals or people.
  • Walk dogs on a leash, maintaining at least 6 feet from other people and animals.
  • Avoid dog parks or public places where a large number of people and dogs gather.

There is a small number of animals around the world reported to be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, mostly after having contact with a person with COVID-19. Talk to your veterinarian if your pet gets sick or if you have any concerns about your pet’s health.

If you have a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19, limit contact with your pets, just like you would with people. If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wear a cloth face covering and wash your hands before and after you interact with them.

Call your veterinarian with questions or concerns on your pet’s health before bringing them to the veterinary clinic.

Who can I call for more information about COVID-19?
The Orange County Health Care Agency is taking calls from the public about COVID-19. Call 800-564-8448 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Or, speak to a CHOC nurse 24/7 to answer your questions about COVID-19 and your child by calling 1-844-GET-CHOC (1-844-438-2462).

This article was last updated on May 26, 2020.

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