TORONTO — It’s an unlikely silver lining of the coronavirus pandemic that children are the least affected group. But what if their parents or primary caregivers contract COVID-19?
While most people that get the virus are not hospitalized and have only mild symptoms, the disease can still have a powerful effect on people in their own homes. Some people have reported unsettling symptoms that could be almost debilitating at times.
Hand-washing and physical distancing are still the best defence against the disease for parents, says Narveen Jandu, a faculty member with the School of Public Health and Health Systems at the University of Waterloo in Ontario.
“We’re saying this over and over so that we don’t get to a situation where we need to plan for emergency care for the children,” she said. “If parents are following the rules with physical distancing, then there shouldn’t be an overall concern that the kids are going to pick up the virus and become sick or severely ill.”
Kids are unlikely to contract the virus and experience severe symptoms, based on global data. Unlike many other viruses, children don’t appear to be as impacted as people over 60. But that doesn’t mean that parents won’t worry and shouldn’t worry. “If they do fall ill, we don’t want to just discount it,” said Jandu. “We still want to pay attention to their signs and symptoms and make sure they’re on a good course of recovery.”
Here’s what to do to prevent the virus from hitting home and what to do if it does.
MAKE A CARE PLAN—BUT KEEP GRANDMA OUT OF IT
To prepare for a scenario in which a parent is hospitalized, ensure that alternative care can be arranged.
“This is the time you can rely on your village of help,” said Toronto pediatrician Dr. Dina Kulik.
But the help should not come from grandma and grandpa. There is still much to learn about the novel coronavirus, but one of the most certain aspects of the disease is that people over the age of 60 are the most vulnerable, particularly those with pre-existing conditions.
“We should all be minimizing our exposure to the grandparents. My kids, for example, have not seen their grandparents in several weeks now. We do FaceTime (video calls),” said Kulik.
The virus can be transmitted by asymptomatic people, including children, who tend to have mild symptoms or none at all.
“My kids may have it and show no symptoms, but they can still pass on the illness, which can be devastating in someone else,” said Kulik.
Instead of recruiting grandma and grandpa to look after the kids in an emergency, consider other younger family members, or trustworthy neighbours.
SELF-ISOLATE WITHIN THE HOME IF SICK
If you become sick as a parent, it’s important to minimize exposure to the children if possible and frequently wash your hands.
“If you have to care for your child you have to care for your child, but there are ways to do that safely,” said Kulik.
Keep your hands clean. Frequent hand-washing (for at least 20 seconds with soap and water) remains a pillar of coronavirus precaution. Kulik suggests wearing gloves, too, if you’re caring for small children.
Wear a mask. If you are sick or you have confirmed COVID-19 or are waiting for test results, a mask can be a good tool to prevent others from getting infected. This can even be a homemade, bandana-style mask with several layers of cotton covering the nose and mouth, said Jandu.
Don’t share. Sharing is caring, but during a pandemic, it can be dangerous. “All the things that people often share, you don’t want to be doing that,” said Kulik. “Including things like towels, bed linens, even electronic devices. We touch everything our kids touch and our kids touch everything that we touch.”
Sterilize everything. Particularly if you have to share common spaces, surfaces should be cleaned frequently.
Separate rooms. Ideally, if a parent has COVID-19, they should go into self-isolation within the home. This includes the use of a separate bathroom if available.
“Every household is different and unique, but if the parents do get sick with COVID-19… then they should be self-isolating themselves within the household,” said Jandu. “That means limiting or not having interaction with their children. If they can be self-isolated in their own bedroom and have the children in another part of the house that would be ideal.”
Put the toilet seat down. There is some evidence that suggests COVID-19 can spread through feces in bathrooms, so be sure to put the toilet seat down before flushing.
“You don’t want to flush until you’ve closed the toilet, because there’s some thought that some of the droplets can come out of the toilet and aerosolize,” said Kulik.
WAIT AT LEAST 14 DAYS
Don’t stop any of these precautions until at least 14 days from the beginning of your illness. Some experts suggest waiting extra days beyond the point when you are symptom-free.
“You really shouldn’t have anything — no cough, no cold, no fever, no congestion, no vomiting, no diarrhea,” said Kulik. “You should be completely and perfectly well and it’s been at least 14 days.”