As a parent, you can’t help but worry about the safety of your children. So it’s natural that as stories about the novel coronavirus that started in China flood the news, parents worry about whether their children could be at risk.
We are still learning about this new virus; there is much we do not know yet about how it spreads, how serious it can be, or how to treat it. The fact that so much is unknown is a big part of what makes it frightening. But there are things we do know — about this virus and other similar viruses — that can help us keep our children safe and well.
All of the advice below assumes that you and your family have not recently traveled to an area where there are known cases of coronavirus, or had some other possible exposure. If that is the case, you should call your doctor immediately for advice.
As of this writing, there are relatively few cases in the United States, and many measures are being taken to limit the spread of the virus. It’s important to stay informed and listen to the advice of public health officials in your area — and not panic if your child or someone else in your family or community gets a cough and fever. It’s far more likely to be a cold, or influenza (flu), than coronavirus.
In fact, influenza infects millions of people every year and kills thousands. Every year, doctors and public health officials talk about ways you can keep you and your loved ones from catching the flu. Those precautions can also help keep you safe from coronavirus, as it seems that the two illnesses spread in similar ways.
- Make sure everyone washes their hands! Using soap and water and washing for 20 seconds (about as long as it takes you to sing the alphabet song) does the trick. If you don’t have a sink handy, hand sanitizer will do — make sure you spread it well, getting it all over the hands including between the fingers. Wash before meals and snacks, after being in public places, and after being around anyone who is or might be sick.
- Encourage healthy habits, like eating a healthy diet, exercising, and getting enough sleep. This helps keep your child’s immune system strong.
- Make sure your child has received the flu vaccine. The flu is far more common — and can be very dangerous too.
- Teach children not to touch their mouths, eyes, or noses with their hands unless they have just washed them. This is easier said than done, I admit. Make a game out of it — have them itch with their knees instead. Carry tissues for wiping mouths and noses, and throw out used tissues promptly.
- Teach children to be careful about the surfaces they touch when you are out in public.