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.

There is probably not one parent on earth who hasn’t stayed up all night with a feverish child, worrying, and keeping vigil.

But usually, these worries did not take over our lives…at least not the way the coronavirus pandemic has. 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 might mean.

Could you have predicted a year ago 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, several months into the pandemic, doctors and scientists know more about it than ever. While keeping your family safe from coronavirus should still be top concern, there is no need to panic about it the way you might have just a few months ago.

Let’s take a look at what we know about coronavirus so far, and what the best ways are to keep our children and families safe during this difficult time.

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 virtually all over the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), as of October 2020, COVID-19 has sickened over 40 million people worldwide, and has resulted in over a million deaths.

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

Symptoms of COVID-19

Symptoms of COVID-19 can vary 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, including symptoms that may 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.

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 include the following, according to the CDC:

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

Someone who has COVID-19 may experience some, but not all of these symptoms. It’s usually recommended that if you are experiencing these symptoms, and especially if you had any known interaction with a COVID-19 positive person, that 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, you should visit your urgent care or emergency room.

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 6 feet). These droplets are then inhaled into the mouth and lungs, causing an infection 2-14 days later.

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

Airborne transmission is thought to be most likely 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. This is one of the reasons mask wearing is recommended anytime you are in an indoor environment.

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 hand washing is a great idea when it comes to preventing COVID-19 as well as other respiratory 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.

The problem is, it’s hard to predict how severe your child’s symptoms will be, and it’s important to remember that 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, newborns and 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 severe disease is rare, babies under the age of one are more likely to experience severe infections than older children, likely due to their less developed immune system and narrow airways.

Children

Although children can and do become infected with COVID-19, they are more likely to experience milder infections, overall.

They experience many of the same symptoms as adults, such as fever, shortness of breath, loss of taste and smell, as well as 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. Children who have underlying health conditions are more likely to experience severe cases of COVID-19. These conditions include:

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

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 pass away from it.

Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome

In rare cases, children can experience a syndrome related to COVID-19 called multisystem inflammatory syndrome (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:

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

Severe symptoms that require immediate medical attention include:

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

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, and so it can be difficult to predict who will experience a more severe bout of the virus.

It’s important to understand that COVID-19 is more severe and more deadly than the common flu, and that sometimes symptoms can last for weeks, 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:

As is the case with children, Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black adults are more likely to experience more severe cases of COVID-19, hospitalizations, and death.

In addition, people over the age of 65 experience more severe disease and have a higher risk of death. So it’s important to take special precautions if you live with older, extended family, or when visiting the grandparents.

Prevention

Treatments for COVID-19 are still evolving and many look promising. A vaccine may be on the horizon, but we don’t know when that may be and how much protection it will offer.

That’s why it’s important to take common sense precautions so that your family doesn’t contract COVID-19 or spread it to others.

The most simple way to protect your family is to practice social distancing and mask wearing whenever you are outside your immediate family unit. That means staying at least six feet apart from others whenever possible.

When that is not possible, it’s advised that you wear a mask. Most health experts recommend mask wearing even when social distancing is possible, especially indoors where coronavirus can spread via aerosolized droplets.

It’s not advised that children under the age of two wear masks, but children above age two can wear simple cloth masks, as long as they have no health conditions that prevent them from doing so. Consult with your doctor if you are unsure whether mask wearing is appropriate for your child.

In addition to social distancing and masking, it’s important that you wash your hands frequently. Soap and water is most effective, but hand sanitizers that are at least 60% alcohol are effective at killing coronavirus as well.

With all this in mind, thinking about different kinds of events your family might want to participate in can become stressful and confusing! In general, the lowest risk events are events that can be held virtually. But that doesn’t mean in-person events can’t happen at all during this time, and it’s important for children to get out of the house and find ways of connecting to others.

Participating in outside events where social distancing and masking rules are observed are generally considered low risk activities, especially if these events aren’t too crowded. Inside events may be safe, as long as ventilation, distancing, masking are in effect.

But indoor activities should be limited to small groups—and if your location is currently experiencing a coronavirus outbreak, it may be best to stay away from those types of events.

COVID-19 Treatment

Part of the reason why it’s so important for all of us to take the threat of COVID-19 seriously is because although there are many treatments being tested that look promising, as of now, only one medical treatment has been approved by the FDA, a drug called remdesivir.

Approved on October 22nd, 2020, remdesivir can be used in adults and children 12 and over who require hospitalization for COVID-19.

In addition to remdesivir, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends the use of dexamethasone, a corticosteroid that can reduce inflammation, as a possible COVID-19 treatment.

There are several vaccines in trial periods for COVID-19, and many look promising. As of now, none have been approved by the FDA for usage.

A Word From Verywell

When most of us became parents, “parenting through a global pandemic” was not on our list of scenarios we expected to contend with. The pandemic has upended many of our lives, as schools have shuttered, or are only opened part-time, and childcare has been more difficult to secure.

Not only that, but we are worried about our children’s physical and mental health, as well as our own. We may have older family members we haven’t seen in months, and we may feel the stress and fatigue weighing us down on all levels.

The pandemic will end eventually, and we will all get through this. But it’s important to remember that surviving this pandemic isn’t just about following all of the safety precautions for our children and our families. It’s about making sure that our kids’ and our own mental health is tended to as well.

Feeling stress and anxiety is normal right now, but if those feelings are making it difficult for you or your children to function on a day to day basis, it might be time to get mental health help. You can talk to your child’s pediatrician, your own physician, or contact a local therapist or counselor for help.

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Article 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.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 1918 Pandemic (H1N1 virus). Updated March 20, 2019.

  2. World Health Organization. WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard. Updated November 30, 2020.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms of Coronavirus. Updated May 13, 2020.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People with Certain Medical Conditions. Updated Nov. 30, 2020.

  5. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions. Updated November 27, 2020.

  6. NIH. What's New In COVID-19 Treatment Guidelines. Updated November 18, 2020.

Additional Reading
  • People at Increased Risk. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Updated September 11, 2020.

  • Coronavirus Disease 2019. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Updated October 21, 2020.