What you should know about the coronavirus and children
The coronavirus outbreak presents every family with unique challenges. As a parent you might have a number of questions right now, including questions about how coronavirus might impact your little one. We’re here to answer your questions so that you can help keep your family healthy and safe.
Does COVID-19 impact children differently?
There’s still a lot that experts don’t know about COVID-19, a disease caused by the coronavirus. But based on what is known so far, while some babies and children have become sick with COVID-19, we know that far more adults have become sick.
Most children who have been confirmed to have COVID-19 have generally had mild, cold-like symptoms — this includes cough, runny nose, fever, and sometimes diarrhea and vomiting. If your child shows any signs of COVID-19, you should call their healthcare provider right away.
We also know that some people are at higher risk of having more serious illness — including individuals who are older or have underlying medical conditions like heart conditions, lung disease, moderate to severe asthma, diabetes, or people who are immunocompromised — though it’s not yet clear if children who have underlying medical conditions are at a higher risk for severe illness. If your child has underlying medical conditions, you can always ask their healthcare provider any questions that you might have about this.
What does the coronavirus have to do with Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children?
Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, or MIS-C, is an inflammatory syndrome that can cause various body parts to become inflamed. This is a rare condition now being noticed in some children who had the same coronavirus that causes COVID-19 or who were around someone who had COVID-19. MIS-C can cause inflammation in the brain, eyes, gastrointestinal organs, heart, kidneys, lungs, or skin. While most children who get MIS-C do get better with medical care, it can be very serious and even deadly.
It’s important that you contact your child’s healthcare provider right away if you think they might have MIS-C. Symptoms can include:
- bloodshot eyes
- neck pain
- abdominal pain, diarrhea, or vomiting
And if your child shows any serious warning signs of MIS-C, you should get them emergency medical attention immediately. Emergency signs can include:
- difficulty breathing
- steady pain or pressure in the chest
- bluish lips or face
- trouble waking or staying awake
- severe abdominal pain
There’s still so much that experts don’t know about MIS-C, but medical providers are able to provide care for the symptoms and treat inflammation. So if you suspect that your child might have MIS-C, it’s important that they get the care they need right away.
How can you keep your child protected from the coronavirus?
One of the best ways that you can help keep Baby protected is by engaging in social distancing — staying home as much as possible unless needing to leave your home for essential errands (like grocery shopping or visiting the pharmacy), not socializing with anyone who lives outside your home, and keeping your distance from people (at least 6 feet away) if you do need to leave home. You should also have them engage in a lot of the same good hygiene practices that you are. Being a good model for all of these behaviors yourself can go a long way toward helping your little one establish healthy habits that can help prevent the spread of coronavirus:
- Have Baby clean their hands often and learn when they should do so — like before eating, after using the potty, after playing outside, after returning from a public place, or after catching a cough or a sneeze. Hand washing is best, but hand sanitizer can be used if you don’t have easy access to a sink.
- If your little one does have to cough or sneeze, encourage them to do so safely, into a bent elbow — saying that they can catch their cough or sneeze like a vampire can sometimes make it more fun — or a tissue, which should them be thrown away, followed by handwashing again.
- Teach them to avoid other people who are sick.
- Adults and children who are age 2 and older should wear a cloth face covering when leaving the house. (Cloth face coverings should not be worn by children under age 2 and anyone having trouble breathing or otherwise impaired.) So if your child is of this age and needs to accompany you out of the house for an essential errand, you and your child should both wear a face covering that covers the nose and mouth. The face covering isn’t meant to protect either of you, but it is meant to help prevent you from infecting others in the event that you have COVID-19 but aren’t showing any symptoms.
You can also take further steps to keep germs from being spread around your home. You should regularly disinfect the high-touch surfaces in your home that you and your family touch regularly, like doorknobs, light switches, railings, baby gates, refrigerator door handles, sinks, toilets, remotes, tables, desks, hard chairs, and even toys. You can wash Baby’s soft or stuffed toys according to their laundering instructions — using warm water if possible is best — and make sure they dry completely after being washed.
How else can you keep your child healthy at this time?
Aside from all of the above, one of the most important things you can do at this time is ensure that Baby knows that they are loved. Depending on how old your little one is, they might not have much sense of what’s going on or they might be very aware of the situation. You should be honest with your little one in a way that is age-appropriate, and do all that you can to remain calm and reassuring, even in this stressful time, as you don’t want them to feel overly worried. With that in mind, stay on the lookout for signs of stress in your child.
Depending on how old your child is, you may also want to help them continue on with their school studies and stay connected to classmates, friends, and teachers. Same goes for helping them stay connected to extended family and loved ones, even though you can’t be together in person right now. It’s also important to help your little one stay active, so you may want to spend some time outside each day if you can do so safely while practicing social distancing or find ways to safely stay active inside. And even if you’re quite busy during this time — we know many parents are continuing to work, and potentially figuring out how to do so from home, while school and daycares are closed — make sure you find some time each day to spend focused, quality time with Baby. Make time to play, to read, to snuggle, to just be together.
Helping your little one feel safe and secure at home is one of the most important things you can do, even during this challenging time, and will likely nourish you as well.
Updated July 7, 2020
- “Caring for Children.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 28 2020. Retrieved March 31 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/children.html.
- “For Parents: Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) associated with COVID-19.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, May 20 2020. Retrieved May 27 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/children/mis-c.html.
- Frequently Asked Questions.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 28 2020. Retrieved March 31 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html.
- “People who are at higher risk for severe illness.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 26 2020. Retrieved March 31 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/people-at-higher-risk.html.
- “Talking with children about Coronavirus Disease 2019.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 30 2020. Retrieved March 31 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/talking-with-children.html.
- “Use of Cloth Face Coverings to Help Slow the Spread of COVID-19.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, April 4 2020. Retrieved April 6 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html.