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?
Although the California Department of Public Health does not require people to wear face coverings when leaving their homes for essential activities, the agency has said wearing a cloth face covering could reinforce social distancing and reduce the spread of infectious particles. Read the CDPH guidance on face coverings issued April 1 here.

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

Experts say the best defense against COVID-19 is staying at home and physical distancing; washing hands frequently; avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands; avoiding being around sick people; and staying home if you’re 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 April 2, 2020.

Get more information on Coronavirus (COVID-19)

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Should My Kids Get the Flu Shot This Year?

Many parents have expressed concern over the last few months that this year’s influenza vaccine may be less effective than in years past and wondering, “Should my kids get the flu shot this year?” These concerns stem from data released after Australia’s flu season, where recent reports indicated low effectiveness of the vaccine.

“We’re using the same vaccine here in the United States, so people think it won’t be effective,” says Dr. Jasjit Singh, a pediatric infectious disease specialist and medical director of infection prevention and control at CHOC Children’s.

dr-jasjit-singh-choc-childrens
Dr. Jasjit Singh, a pediatric infectious disease specialist and medical director of infection prevention and control at CHOC Children’s., addresses parents’ annual concerns over, “Should my kids get the flu shot this year?”

These doubts are misguided, says Singh. Although reports show Australia’s vaccine was only 10 percent effective, that data was specifically looking at the H3N2 strain that had dominated the southern hemisphere this year, she says. Effectiveness against the same strain in the US has been as high as 30-40 percent, and even higher against other strains of influenza in the past.

“We can’t take that one statistic and apply it to all strains of the flu in the US this season,” Singh says.

It’s important for parents to remember that the although the vaccine helps prevent children and adults from getting the flu, physicians are especially concerned with preventing influenza-related hospitalizations or even death.

“People forget that children and adults can die from influenza. So far in the U.S. there have been nine pediatric flu-related deaths this season,” Singh says.

Since the 2004-2005 flu season, flu-related deaths in children have ranged from 37 to 171 each season, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

A recent study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics examined vaccine effectiveness in 291 pediatric influenza-associated pediatric deaths from 2010-2014. Vaccine effectiveness was 51 percent in children with high-risk conditions, compared to 65 percent in children without high-risk conditions.

“This shows that many of our deaths are in otherwise healthy children,” Singh says.

Although it’s best to get vaccinated early in the season, it’s better to be vaccinated later in the winter than not at all.

“Very often, people get vaccinated because someone they know has the flu. It takes two weeks for the vaccine to take effect, so if your child has been exposed to the flu in that time period, they can still get sick,” she says.

Parents should remember that children cannot get from the flu from getting a flu shot.

“The vaccine is not a live vaccine, so it’s impossible to get the flu from getting a flu shot,” Singh says. “the vaccine prevents influenza virus, but during winter months there are many other viruses that cause colds and respiratory viruses, that are usually milder than the flu.”

Those who decline a flu shot because they “never get the flu” still need to be vaccinated, she adds.

“It’s important to remember that some people may have minimal symptoms, but can still pass the virus to others who may be vulnerable to more severe disease.”

The single best way to protect your child from the flu is by getting them vaccinated each year. In addition to receiving an annual influenza vaccine, there are other things parents and caregivers can do to help prevent the flu. Use proper hand-washing techniques, use respiratory etiquette, and stay home from work or school if you are sick with the flu, to prevent spreading it to others.

Download your immunization guide

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