15 Tips from a Mom in the Middle of a Coronavirus Outbreak

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Florida is one of the areas of the United States with multiple confirmed cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the scary new coronavirus. When Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency here, I got worried. But it was even more frightening when I saw this headline staring at me from the Tampa Bay Times: “Florida’s Third Coronavirus Case Is Found in Hillsborough.” That’s my county. So not only is the virus in my state, it’s only a few miles away from where me, my husband and our two kids, ages 1 and 4, live. I needed advice and reassurance, so I reached out to Nadeen White, M.D., a pediatrician practicing hospital medicine in Atlantafor help. I hope that what I learned will help you keep your own family calm and safe during this public health crisis. Getty Images

Stay Calm, but Be Prepared

White stressed one point more than any other: “Stay calm, but be prepared. You and your family will probably be just fine, health-wise, even if you are infected. But your life is likely to be disrupted,” she says. For instance, it’s possible that your child’s school might close if there’s an outbreak in your neighborhood, so start talking with your friends and family now about how you would handle childcare in that situation. Four schools in New York closed this week as a precaution. It’s also possible that you may need to take up to 14 days off of work if you or your child is suspected of having COVID-19. So make sure you understand your employer’s policies on sick days and telecommuting (if that’s an option).

Know that Coronavirus Doesn’t Seem to Hit Kids as Hard as it Does Adults

Many viral illnesses, including the flu, are especially dangerous for young children than they are for grown ups. But so far, this doesn’t seem to be true for the novel coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “There haven’t been any recorded deaths in children,” says White. “Not to say that can’t change, but it’s a really good thing that kids are doing well.” Even though most children are likely to have only mild symptoms if they’re infected, certain kids are at higher risk of severe reactions. “This includes immunocompromised kids such as those with chronic respiratory issues, cystic fibrosis, asthma and those being treated for cancer,” says White. “Children on immunosuppressive drugs to treat conditions like multiple sclerosis and inflammatory arthritis may also be at higher risk.”

Follow Travel Advisories

If you have work trips or family vacations on the horizon, bookmark the the CDC’s travel risk assessment website. Coronavirus-related travel advisories can change rapidly so check in regularly for the most up-to-date information. As of March 2020, travel to China, Iran, South Korea and Italy is discouraged by the CDC, and older adults or those with chronic medical conditions should consider postponing travel to Japan. “It’s shocking to me how airlines and cruise ships have been letting people cancel and not charging for rescheduling during this time. They’re being very good about it,” says White. If you have older children who are studying abroad in college or are thinking about doing so, contact the school to find out if certain programs are being relocated or temporarily discontinued. The University of Florida, for example, cancelled the study abroad program in Italy.

Stay Home if You’re Sick

“Children should stay home from school or daycare if they are sick. Keeping them at home helps protect more vulnerable children and adults at their school from becoming ill or infected with Coronavirus,” says White. “They should see their pediatrician or healthcare provider if they are sick and if they have traveled to one of the countries affected, exposed to anyone from those countries or someone infected with Coronavirus.” The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough and shortness of breath, according to the CDC. Keeping kids home is easier said than done of course, but during a possible outbreak, try to err on the side of caution as much as you can. Health experts say doing so could save the life of a vulnerable person in your community.

Teach Your Kiddos Proper Hand Washing (Again)

Good, old-fashioned hand washing can help keep you and your children from getting infected and spreading the novel coronavirus if you already have it. Make sure your kiddos aren’t rushing through the process: Wet your hands with warm or cold water, lather soap all over your hands and rub them together for at least 20 seconds (about the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice), then rinse and dry your hands. It’s especially key to wash up when you get home from being out and about and before eating or preparing food, and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if you’re not near a sink. Rub the gel on your hands for around 20 seconds or until your hands are dry.

Get a Flu Shot

If you and your family members haven’t already gotten your flu shots, go get them as soon as possible, says White. A flu shot won’t help protect you against COVID-19, but there are other good reasons to get one. First of all, coronavirus can resemble the flu, so if your kids have symptoms like a cough and fever and they’ve been vaccinated against the flu, you have more of a reason to suspect that they might have COVID-19. On top of that, if someone in your family gets the regular flu andCOVID-19, “it could be disastrous,” says White. The flu virus circulates year-round and can still be active as late as May, according to the CDC.

Talk to Your Child’s School

If you haven’t yet received any communication from your child’s school administrators, be proactive and ask what measures are being taken to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. For instance, my four-year-old’s preschool has covered all the water fountains so kids can’t use them and asked parents to send kids to school with reusable water bottles instead. Teachers are also using disinfecting wipes on surfaces more frequently and kids aren’t allowed to share food or drinks.

Check in With Your Pediatrician’s Office

My children’s pediatrician’s office took an interesting measure this week: They’re implementing curb-side check-in for all kids with fevers, a key symptom of COVID-19. Parents are advised to stay in the car, call the office to announce their arrival and then a staff member walks out to the car and escorts you to the exam room when it’s ready for you, to avoid exposing others to in the waiting room to potential infection. The most common symptoms of coronavirus are fever, cough and shortness of breath and they may appear within two to 14 days of being exposed. The cases that have been reported so far range from mild to severe. If you notice any of those symptoms in you or your kids or if you’ve been in close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, call your doctor as soon as possible. They can help determine whether testing for COVID-19 is appropriate and guide you on next steps.

Disinfect the House Regularly

Use sanitizing wipes or another disinfecting cleaner on any “hot spots” in your house that are frequently touched such as doorknobs, faucets, appliance handles (refrigerator, dishwasher, microwave, toaster), light switches and countertops. Regarding electronic devices (phones, keyboards, tablet screens, remote controls, etc.), follow the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions—such as spraying a little bit of disinfectant onto a cloth and then wiping down the device. Although experts are still learning about the new coronavirus, similar viruses are able to survive and remain infectious for days on hard surfaces.

Have Extra Meds on Hand

Many drugstores and other shops around the country are already running low on hand sanitizer and disinfectants. So now’s the time to stock up on children’s and adult ibuprofen and acetaminophen and other medications you might need whether someone in your house gets the novel coronavirus or not. And if you or any other family members rely on prescription medications call your doctor and insurance company to request authorization for a two week additional supply to keep on hand in case you are quarantined or need to reduce your interactions with others in the community. “Plan for what you would need for 10 to 14 days,” says White. “People tend to forget about this until they’re stuck at home and the pharmacy is closed. Places may have to close down or have shortened hours because their own staff is dealing with this too.”

Rethink Playdates

There’s no need to cancel playdates if there’s no known outbreak in your area. But it’s good to be cautious and take a raincheck if anyone feels under the weather. And when your child is playing at the park with others, avoid using public water fountains and encourage your little one to stay at least six feet away from other kids who are coughing if they can.

Encourage Your Kids To Quit Touching Their Faces

It may be challenging to enforce this one with your kiddos, but try to remind them when you catch them touching their noses, eyes, or mouth. That is where germs like the novel coronavirus enter your body. After washing your hands, this is one of the best ways to help prevent infection.

Stay Informed

This virus is spreading quickly, so it’s important to keep an eye on the news as things evolve. Consider following your state or county government or health department on your favorite social network, too. That’s often the fastest way for those groups to distribute new or urgent info.

Use the “Vampire Cough”

There are few things more aggravating for me than watching someone sneeze or cough directly into the air — especially if the person is standing or sitting near others (hello, planes, trains, busses, subways and crowded music festivals). The bottom line: This way sprays others with germs and helps diseases like COVID-19 spread faster. Experts advise sneezing or coughing into your elbow—like a vampire wrapping himself with his cloak—while turning away from others. Or use a tissue and throw it out immediately, and then wash your hands or use sanitizer. Developing a reward system for your kids (like giving out stickers) when they practice this habit may help reinforce good behavior.

Remember We’re All in This Together

Although I’m concerned about COVID-19 and will continue monitoring its spread, I’m not as fearful as I was before doing this research and talking to White. And I am comforted by the we’re-all-in-this-together feeling in my community. (We Floridians also tend to get quite cozy with each other during hurricane season). I’m trying not to talk about coronavirus too much in front of my kids, because I don’t want to instill any unnecessary fears in them. But at the same time, I’m not burying my head in the sand. Learning as much as I can and preparing for a worst-case scenario calms me because I know I’m doing everything I can to help protect my family.