Keeping Your Family Safe From the Coronavirus

Mom and child grocery store

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Keeping our kids and family safe has always been a top priority for parents—and worrying, at least a little, is just part of the job. After all, children can’t take care of themselves fully, and it’s our responsibility to watch for things like choking hazards, and that our kids are properly strapped into their car seats.

But usually, these worries do not take over our lives… at least not the way the COVID-19 pandemic did. It’s been a little over 100 years since the last global pandemic (the 1918 H1N1 pandemic) and few of us fully grasped what living through a pandemic would mean.

Before COVID, could you have predicted that almost every aspect of your life as a parent would be upended and that you would spend so much of your day thinking about how to keep your family safe from contracting a brand new, severe virus—while also staying sane and keeping your kids happy?

The good news is that while the coronavirus is still a very serious virus, and one that we all need to stay vigilant about, doctors and scientists know more about it than ever. They have developed effective vaccines and treatments for the disease. While keeping your family safe from COVID-19 should still be a top concern, there is no need to panic about it.

What Is COVID-19?

The novel coronavirus is a respiratory virus that is believed to have originated in late 2019 in China. The virus has now spread all over the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), as of July 2022, COVID-19 has affected over 546 million people worldwide and resulted in over 6.3 million deaths.

The virus that causes COVID-19 infections is called SARS-CoV-2. Although SARS-CoV-2 is a new virus, other coronaviruses have been around for a long time. Some coronaviruses are mild, such as the common cold. Others, such as SARS and MERS, can cause severe symptoms like SARS-CoV-2 does.

Symptoms of COVID-19

Symptoms of COVID-19 can vary widely from person to person, which is one of the reasons it can be so difficult to track and quarantine people who are ill with the virus.

Some people have very mild symptoms of COVID-19, and may simply think they are experiencing the common cold. Other people have severe symptoms, such as respiratory issues that require intensive care stays. Still, other people who contract coronavirus have no symptoms at all.

In general, people who are over the age of 65 are most likely to contract severe cases of the virus, as are people of all ages with underlying medical conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. The most common symptoms of COVID-19 include the following, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Body aches
  • Chills
  • Congestion/runny nose
  • Cough
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • New loss of smell and taste
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sore throat
  • Vomiting

Someone who has COVID-19 may experience some, but not all of these symptoms. If you or your child is experiencing any of these symptoms, and especially if you had any known interaction with a person with COVID-19, you should get tested for the virus.

One of the most serious symptoms of COVID-19 is shortness of breath. It’s a prominent feature of the more serious cases of COVID-19, many of which require supplemental oxygen, ventilation, and/or ICU care.

If you are experiencing shortness of breath, trouble breathing, pain or pressure in your chest, confusion, extreme fatigue, bluish lips or face, visit an urgent care clinic or emergency room right away.

How COVID-19 Is Transmitted

For the most part, COVID-19 is transmitted via respiratory droplets that are exchanged when two people are in close proximity to one another (within about six feet) for an extended period of time (typically, 15 minutes or more). These droplets are then inhaled into the mouth and lungs, and if they contain the virus, they can cause an infection two to 14 days later.

There is also evidence that coronavirus is spread through airborne particles that linger in the air after someone coughs, sneezes, speaks, breathes, or sings.

Airborne transmission is thought to be most likely to occur in indoor, less ventilated spaces. In this case, the virus could be transmitted even if you are more than six feet from an infected person.

Coronavirus can also be transmitted from respiratory droplets that land on surfaces if a person touches those droplets and then touches their face, mouth, or eyes. However, this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. Still, frequent handwashing is important when it comes to preventing COVID-19 as well as other infections.

Risks of COVID-19 to Kids

One of the silver linings of the pandemic for parents is that for the most part, kids do not get serious COVID-19 infections. While kids certainly can become infected with the virus and can experience severe complications and even death, it’s much more likely that a child will have milder symptoms.

It's impossible to predict how severe a child’s symptoms will be, and children can transmit the virus to their families, teachers, and grandparents—sometimes without even realizing they are infected. So, it’s important to shield them from the virus as much as possible.

Newborns and Babies

Generally, babies don’t get severe cases of COVID-19. However, they can become infected, and sometimes can experience severe infections, especially if they are medically vulnerable, premature, or have underlying conditions.

While experiencing severe disease is rare, infants under the age of one are more likely to experience severe infections than older children, likely due to their less developed immune systems and narrow airways.

Children

Although children can and do become infected with COVID-19, they are more likely to experience milder infections, overall. If they do become infected, they experience many of the same symptoms as adults, such as fever, shortness of breath, loss of taste and smell, and digestive upset.

Children may also experience conjunctivitis as a symptom. Some children will only have mild symptoms, such as a headache or stuffy nose. In rare cases, children have died from coronavirus infection. Children who have underlying health conditions are more likely to experience severe cases of COVID-19. These conditions include:

  • Asthma
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Genetic conditions of the nervous or metabolic system
  • Obesity

Sadly, there is a racial disparity when it comes to COVID-19, as Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black children are more likely to contract the virus, be hospitalized with it, and die from it.

Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome

In rare cases, children can experience a syndrome related to COVID-19 called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C).

This is a condition believed to be connected to COVID-19 because the majority of children who experience the symptoms of MISC-C either had a previously known COVID-19 infection or tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies.

MIS-C causes inflammation in the blood vessels and can be severe. Symptoms include:

  • Fast heartbeat
  • Fever
  • Rapid breathing
  • Red eyes
  • Skin rash
  • Stomach upset (vomiting, nausea, diarrhea)
  • Swollen hands and feet
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Swollen mouth and tongue

Severe symptoms that require immediate medical attention include:

  • Blue lips/face
  • Confusion
  • Extreme lethargy (where you can’t wake your child)
  • Severe stomach pain
  • Shortness of breath

Any of these symptoms are considered an emergency, and you should call 911 or bring your child to the emergency room right away.

Risks of COVID-19 to Family

If you are a healthy adult under the age of 65, your risk of becoming severely ill or dying of COVID-19 is low. However, experts are still learning about the risks of COVID-19, so it can be difficult to predict who will experience a more severe bout of the virus. Additionally, some people, even those with a mild initial illness, experience lingering, sometimes debilitating symptoms, a condition called long COVID or post-acute COVID-19.

COVID-19 is more severe and more deadly than the common flu. Sometimes, symptoms can last for weeks or months, and be quite debilitating, even if you survive the virus. That is why everyone is urged to take precautions to make sure they don’t contract it or spread it to others.

There are certain underlying conditions that make you more likely to get a severe case of COVID-19. These include:

  • Cancer
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Heart conditions
  • Kidney disease
  • Obesity
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Smoking
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Weakened immune system

As is the case with children, Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black adults are more likely to experience more severe cases of COVID-19, including hospitalizations, and death. People over the age of 65 also experience more severe disease and have a higher risk of death. So, it’s important to take special precautions if you live with or visit anyone who is more vulnerable.

Prevention

Safe, effective vaccines are now available for adults and children aged 6 months old and over. The CDC recommends getting either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine as soon as possible for protection from the virus. The Novavax vaccine is also available for ages 12 and up. Children and adults age 5 and up are also eligible for booster shots.

Even with the extra protection afforded by the vaccine, it’s still important to take common-sense precautions so that your family doesn’t contract COVID-19 or spread it to others. One of the best precautions is to practice frequent hand washing or use hand sanitizer when hand washing is not possible. Hand sanitizers that contain at least 60% alcohol are effective at killing coronavirus.

CDC recommends wearing a mask in crowded, public indoor settings, particularly in areas of substantial or high community transmission, regardless of vaccination status.

COVID-19 Treatment

Treatments for COVID-19 are still evolving, but have improved significantly since the beginning of the pandemic. There are many treatments being tested that look promising, including a drug called Veklury (remdesivir), which has been approved by the FDA.

Approved on October 22, 2020, remdesivir can now be used in adults, children, and babies aged 28 days of age and older. COVID-19 patients are eligible to receive remdesiver if they require hospitalization for COVID-19 or are at high-risk for progression to severe COVID-19.

In addition to remdesivir, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends the use of monoclonal antibodies for patients with COVID-19 infection who are not hospitalized but are at risk of disease progression. Other medications may be used to treat COVID-19 in certain populations.

A Word From Verywell

The COVID-19 pandemic upended many of our lives as schools were shuttered or only opened part-time, childcare was more difficult to secure, and many of us worked from home. Not only were physical safety concerns of prime importance, but mental health also became an issue for many people. Thankfully, the worst of the pandemic seems to be over and regular life has begun to return to normal.

However, COVID-19 still remains a serious threat. Parents and caregivers need to be mindful of the risk that this virus poses to them and their families, especially for people who are not vaccinated. Getting vaccinated (and booster shots) is the best way to stay safe.

21 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Wendy Wisner
Wendy Wisner is a lactation consultant and writer covering maternal/child health, parenting, general health and wellness, and mental health. She has worked with breastfeeding parents for over a decade, and is a mom to two boys.