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.

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 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?
People are thought to be most contagious when they are showing symptoms. Some spread, however, might be possible before people show 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?
On March 19,  the governor of California ordered all state residents to stay home — except  for essential needs, such as if your work supports the continuity of critical infrastructure sectors, or if you need to access essential services like food, pharmacies, banks or laundromats. The order is in place until further notice. Read more here. This order establishes consistency across the state in order to slow the spread of COVID-19.

As of March 17, the Orange County health officer had prohibited public and private gatherings of any number of people, occurring outside a single household, except for those deemed essential activities. That order is in effect until March 31, 2020 but may be extended. Read the health officer’s full order here.

Although current CDC guidelines includes avoiding social gatherings of more than 10 people, they also encourage the public to follow the directions of state and local authorities.

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

During this time, help your child stay active. Encourage them to play outdoors, which is good for their physical and mental health. Take a walk or a bike ride. Indoors, try stretch breaks and dance breaks.

Should my children and I wear masks?
Personal protective equipment (also called PPE) is only recommended for personnel who are in close contact or caring for a patient with COVID 19. CDC recommends everyday preventive actions to prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, such as avoiding people who are sick, avoiding touching your eyes or nose, and covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue. People who are sick should stay home and not go into crowded public places or visit people in hospitals. Workers who are sick should follow CDC guidelines and stay home when they are sick.

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

Can I transmit COVID-19 to my baby through breastmilk?
No information is available yet on the transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19. However, no evidence of the virus has been found in breast milk of women with COVID-19.

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 March 27, 2020.

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What is social distancing?

To slow the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19), health officials have urged the public to practice social distancing.

The Centers for Disease Control defines social distancing as avoiding mass gatherings and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet) from others when possible. The CDC also recommends remaining out of congregate settings or crowded public places where close contact with others may occur, such as shopping centers, movie theaters or stadiums.

Tips for practicing social distancing:

  • Avoid shaking hands, hugging, high-fiving or otherwise greeting with contact. Instead, use a wave or nod.
  • Avoid non-essential travel.
  • Avoid crowds.
  • Contact your employer regarding work-from-home policies.
  • Stay home if you are sick.
  • Avoid medical facilities, long-term care facilities or nursing homes unless you have a medical reason for being there.

How does social distancing help?

COVID-19 is spread through respiratory droplets, which can be expelled from people through coughing, sneezing or talking. Once the virus lands on a surface, it can survive for some time and potentially infect anyone who touches that surface before touching his or her eyes, nose or mouth.

Temporary closures at places where people gather — such as schools, community centers and workplaces — allow for social distancing to happen. Closing these places means people cannot gather, which creates necessary space between people. The key to slowing the spread of COVID-19 is to limit social interactions as much as possible.

Do healthy people need to practice social distancing?

People are thought to be most contagious when they are showing symptoms. Many people, including children, with COVID-19 may show only mild symptoms. Some spread, however, might be possible before people show symptoms. In these cases, they can still pass this virus onto others who may be at higher risk, including older adults and people who have serious chronic medical conditions.

What can I do while practicing social distancing?

The California governor’s March 19 order instructs all California residents to stay at home, except for critical infrastructure work or essential activities like going to the grocery store, pharmacy or bank. Read the full order here.

During this time, you can help protect your family from transmission through washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and cleaning and disinfecting surfaces often. Avoid touching your face with your hands and teach your children how to properly cough and sneeze into their elbow or a tissue.

At home, surround yourself with relaxing colors, sounds and scents. You can use this time of solidarity to do something you enjoy and be creative.

It’s still a good idea to exercise and get fresh air during this time. It is important though, to maintain safe distances, ideally 6 feet, while doing so. If possible, stay in a closed yard.

Here’s a CHOC psychologist’s tips for establishing structure and routine for kids during this time. And here’s a list of activity ideas for kids during COVID-19.

Maintaining social connections

People may experience anxiety related to the disruption of their normal routine caused by COVID-19 and social distancing. Continue to reach out to friends and family using methods such as the phone, video chat, email and text.

When can I stop practicing social distancing?

The governor’s March 19 stay at home order is in effect until further notice.

This article was last updated on March 25, 2020.

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How to talk to kids about disappointment during COVID-19

By Dr. Mery Taylor, pediatric psychologist at CHOC Children’s

With schools closed and the practice of social distancing in effect, it is certainly understandable for children to feel disappointed right now about missing out on birthday parties, field trips or holidays they had been looking forward to. If your child or teen feels disappointed right now, let her express her feelings, and validate them. Share your own disappointments and how you are managing your feelings.

As a parent, it is difficult to see your child experience disappointment. As adults, we have the perspective of knowing that there will be other birthday parties, field trips and celebrations in their future. During this time, children will be most comforted by parents’ words of reassurance that you will get through these challenging times together, and that life will return to normal eventually.

Remind children why things have changed

It can be helpful to remind them about why things are different right now. Remind your child that as a community, we are coming together to “flatten the curve” and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Discuss changes in plans earlier vs. later

For most young children, it will be helpful to start to discuss changes in plans earlier than later. Start slow and return to the topic several times, each time adding a little more detail. Ask for your children’s input on how they can still honor the event though they may not be physically able to go somewhere or have in-person interactions. For example, can they create a birthday card for a friend whose party was canceled and mail it to them, and call or video chat them to wish them a happy birthday.

Limit children’s exposure to the news

At this point, most children are home from school and it is clear that something has drastically changed in their world. While it is important to keep very young children away from the daily news which can include death tolls and speculations, parents should be honest about what we are trying to accomplish by social distancing. Here’s an explanation of social distancing. It could be helpful to ask them what they already know, debunk misinformation, and provide additional information for better understanding and clarification.

Advice for older children

Older children and teens are likely more aware that there are some special occasions that they many never get back, such as school dances, play performances and graduations. Assure them that their school and teacher will do what they can to make it up to them.

Let them use their imagination

Have fun thinking about what makeup birthday parties, field trips and other gatherings with family and friends would look like. Let them use their imaginations on what decorations they would have, food they would eat and people they most want to see.

Celebrate special events in a creative way:

  • Host a virtual party — decorate a backdrop, make a music playlist and create a themed game.
  • Join friends for a virtual museum tour. Many museums and other attractions are offering free virtual visits during this time.
  • Help your child prepare a special meal or dessert for the holiday or special day.
  • Go into nature for a special adventure with those you live with.
  • Call your friend on their birthday and sing them “Happy Birthday.”
  • Share a virtual meal with friends and family.
  • Host a virtual game night.

Building resiliency

Although this pandemic is not the situation that we would have chosen for our kids to face, experiencing adverse events, with their parent’s support, will help kids build resiliency. They will be able to look back on this time and reflect on how they were creative in finding ways to connect with their friends online, how they found new ways to entertain themselves at home, and how they persevered over new challenges, such as attending school online.

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Establishing structure and routine for kids during COVID-19

By Dr. Cindy S. Kim, pediatric psychologist at CHOC Children’s

During a time of crisis when so many things are unknown, creating a routine helps children in several ways. Creating a routine for kids during COVID-19 can provide structure and predictability during times of uncertainty. Structure also promotes reassurance and a sense of safety. Routines can also promote positive physical and mental health.

Children inherently turn to structure and routine for reassurance during times of uncertainty. Structure and routine help to maintain balance and normalcy. The more a child can anticipate what’s up ahead, the better they are prepared to face daily challenges and expectations.

Here are some suggestions in establishing a routine for kids during COVID-19:

  • Don’t get carried away and over-commit to an extensive schedule. Start small and slowly build into is as you see it working for your child.
  • Set aside some time to review the schedule and expectations with your child. This will ensure that they understand what is expected of them as well as when they can have free or play time.
  • For younger children, consider using a visual schedule format. This could be in the form of a chart, a clock with activities placed on it, or any other format your child can understand.
  • Start with a good wake up and bedtime routine. The goal is to stay as close to their daily school schedule as possible to allow for a smooth transition. This allows their physiological system to maintain a healthy balance between activity and rest periods. This is essential for regulating key hormones linked to our mood, hunger, and sleep to name a few.
  • Encourage your child to change out of pajamas and participate in regular grooming and hygiene activities such as brushing their teeth, washing their face, taking showers, etc.
  • Schedule time for meals and snacks, the way they would normally have them during a typical school day.
  • Set aside a quiet workspace for your child to complete schoolwork. Most schools are in the process or have already transitioned to distance learning. Get into the habit of having your child complete their daily school assignments each day.
  • Schedule harder tasks, such as classwork, to be completed earlier in the day when your child is more refreshed and rested. Save easier tasks for later in the day.
  • Allow for natural breaks or recess throughout the day. This time can be spent relaxing, listening to music, reading for fun, engaging in a hobby or exercising. During this time, be attentive to your child’s mood. When they are overly stressed or anxious, you might schedule in additional fun breaks.
  • Allow opportunities for your child to help around the house and do simple chores. This can be as simple as setting the table, folding laundry, or walking the family dog. Giving a child a simple task or job to do can help build up their sense of empowerment.
  • Encourage hobbies and other creative outlets. Your once busy child now has the gift of time to engage in creative outlets such as drawing, painting, cooking, designing, writing a short story or play, or building a fort. Hobbies are a great way to foster creativity and imagination all while giving a child something to do to break up their day.
  • Set aside time for outdoor activities, following social distancing guidelines. This is a great opportunity to go for a short family hike, bike ride or walk around the neighborhood. The goal is to remain active and physical while upholding good social distancing practices.
  • Engage in mindfulness and stress-relieving activities. Many meditation and mindfulness apps are offering free downloads or reduced subscription dues for many effective mediation, guided imagery, and stress reduction exercises or activities your child can do. CHOC offers online guided imagery.
  • Allow screen time as needed. It’s inevitable that your child will want to connect with friends online or spend some time in front of a screen. Screen time is a great way to reward your child for completing their tasks such as chores and schoolwork. As always, monitor and ensure safety measures are in place to allow for safe screen time.
  • Schedule time to connect with friends via technology. This can include video conferencing, text or social media. Social connections are important for children to continue to achieve their developmental goals. You can use video chats, for example, to have a virtual play date while children do the same activity such as creating the same craft together.
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Activity ideas for kids during COVID-19

With social distancing guidelines in effect, many schools closed and some childcare options unavailable, many children are spending more time at home than usual.

Here’s a roundup of what parents and caregivers can do to keep kids occupied during this time.

Online learning

    • The Orange County Department of Education has created a roundup of free resources to help students supplement other materials that are being provided by their teachers.
      • OCDE also has a complete list of school districts providing grab-and-go meals at campuses across Orange County. See the full list here.
    • Many educational companies are offering free subscriptions in light of school closures. Here’s a guide.
    • Scholastic offers day-by-day projects to keep kids reading, thinking and growing.
    • PBS SoCal | KCET, in partnership with the Los Angeles Unified School District and in collaboration with California PBS stations, are offering broadcast programming and accompanying digital resources that adhere to California’s state curriculum. Learn more here.
    • Budding scientists can access Nova Labs at PBS, for video, animation and games on scientific topics like predicting solar storms and constructing renewable energy systems.
    • NASA’s Teachable Moments, offers a range of activities and lessons for grades K-12.
    • NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex has educational and fun Facebook videos where kids can learn from astronauts and other educators. For activities, instructions are available as free downloads.
    • Make any room a classroom with BrainPop, where curious learners can take units in science, social studies, math, engineering and tech, and more
    • Tynker is offering free premium coding courses during school closures.
    • Khan Academy offers free daily schedules for kids and teens ages 4-18 to keep stability and routine during this time. The online learning non-profit also offers a free downloadable app called Khan Academy Kids,that contains thousands of activities and books for children ages 2-7.
    • FunBrain.com offers hundreds of free games, books comics and videos for Pre-K through eighth grade.
    • National Geographic Kids offers free online quizzes on topics ranging from animals to planets to sports and food.
    • Cool Math 4 Kids offers games and lessons to make math fun for kids.
    • Math Game Time offers a variety of games, videos and worksheets for Pre-K through seventh grade.
    • Inspired by Dr. Seuss, Seussville has activities, crafts, printables and recipes to engage your child in playful learning.

YouTube channels

  • Crash Course Kids — bi-weekly shows on grade school science, including Earth, habitats, space and more.
  • Science Channel – learn about outer space, new technology and more.
  • SciShow Kids – every Tuesday and Thursday, the hosts explain fun, complex science concepts; do experiments and interview experts.
  • National Geographic Kids – videos feature animals, science, pets and more.
  • Free School – exposure to famous art, classical music, children’s literature and natural science in an age-appropriate and kid-accessible way.
  • GEOgraphy Focus – explore geography, maps, flags, culture, languages and travel.
  • TheBrainScoop – explore the work and research of natural history museums.
  • Kids Learning Tube – educate kids through music and animation.
  • Geek Gurl Diaries – videos on programming, computer science, logic, electronics and more.
  • Mike Likes Science – science-inspired music videos.
  • Science Max – large-scale science experiments.
  • SoulPancake – in addition to the well-known Kid President shows, this channels offers content that explores and celebrates the ways humans seek connection.

Story time

  • Here’s a list of podcasts — featuring stories, meditation, music and more — for ages 2 through 6.
  • Celebrities are taking to social media to read children’s books to little ones staying home during this time. The Los Angeles Times curated this roundup of these posts.
  • Audible, which has the world’s largest collection of audio books, is offering free stories — in six different languages —  for kids as long as schools are closed. Start listening here.
  • Here’s a list of authors doing read-alouds of their famous books, as well as books by their favorite authors.
  • Storyline Online, the SAG-AFTRA Foundation’s award-winning children’s literacy website, streams videos of celebrities reading aloud children’s books alongside creatively produced illustrations.

Virtual field trips

  • Google Arts & Culture has partnered with thousands of museums around the world to offer virtual tours from the comfort of your home. Here’s the complete list.
  • The San Diego Zoo offers 10 different webcams so animal lovers can keep up with a variety of their favorite creatures.
  • The Monterey Bay Aquarium also offers 10 different webcams for families to experience underwater life from anywhere.

Cook with your kids

  • CHOC nutrition experts have curated some of their favorite recipes and offer tips for how to get kids involved in the kitchen. “Children as young as 2 years old can help out in the kitchen. You can have your child wash fruits and vegetables or stir ingredients,” Shonda Brown, CHOC clinical dietitian, says. “Children are more open to trying new foods if they have opportunities to explore and learn about the food before they eat it.”

Other activities

  • The Kennedy Center’s artist-in-residence is offering “Lunch Doodles” where budding artists can visit his studio virtually once a day to doodle, draw or explore new ways of writing. New episodes are posted each weekday at 1 p.m. Learn more.
  • iReady offers printable at-home math and reading activity packets for grades K-8.

This article was last updated on March 23, 2020.

Get more information on Coronavirus (COVID-19)

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