What Parents Should Keep in Mind About Coronavirus and Kids

We spoke to a pair of pediatricians about what concerns parents should and should not have during the covid-19 pandemic.

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Yesterday, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the novel coronavirus, which has spread to 114 countries and killed more than 4,000 people worldwide, a pandemic. This information is overwhelming. And, for parents, the threat of a new disease is always alarming and goes hand and hand with many questions about health and medical care. The good news as far as the novel coronavirus and the COVID-19 illness is that, by all accounts, it is a minor threat to children. All data indicates that children under 10 — and most 19 and under — are not getting sick. (You can read our Parent’s Guide to Coronavirus here.)

Still, there will be concerns if children start presenting COVID-19 symptoms. Should you take kids to the doctor? If so, when? What are the big concerns? To help offer some assistance — and hopefully assuage some fears — Fatherly spoke to two pediatric doctors, one, an ear nose and throat specialist, and another, a pediatric ER doctor — about what parents who are concerned should be asking their pediatricians, and what measures to take if they’re worried that their child is exhibiting Covid-19 symptoms.

So, How Worried Should Parents Be About Their Healthy Children and Coronavirus?

For the most part, parents worried about their young children and COVID-19 can breathe a sigh of relief. “The one takeaway in all of this, is that kids are overall being spared from the Coronavirus,” says Dr. Jacqueline Jones, a pediatric Ear, Nose and Throat doctor who operates several practices in New York City. “Only 2.4 percent of all the patients in Wuhan were pediatric patients. There have been no pediatric deaths in any patient in the world. In Japan, there were no deaths for people under 50.” If you look at the hard numbers, the fatality rate of children aged 0-9 is less than .01; in those aged 10-19, it’s .02. Yes, that’s extremely low. As in, it hasn’t really affected any children.

So, parents should feel calm that children do not seem to be at risk of becoming seriously ill if they come down with the COVID-19 virus. Dr. Jones also notes that the common cold is a coronavirus and that kids get five to six common colds a year. “Kids have a more active immune response, because they’re always stimulated,” she says. “Those are all really comforting data for the vast majority of parents.”

This also means that when schools are closing, it’s not because educators are worried about healthy, able-bodied children getting COVID-19. It’s more because of the concerns that adults may get the disease and spread it to other adults. So, if your child is in a district that closes all of its schools, it’s a large scale precaution to prevent community spread.

What If An Otherwise Healthy Child Has a Fever, Dry Cough, Or Other Covid-19 Symptoms?

First off, Dr. Daniel Greissman, a pediatric critical care specialist at Pediatric Critical Care of South Florida at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital, notes that things are more or less normal at his hospital. He also understands that parents have concerns and and has been answering a lot of questions from concerned moms and dads.

If a child comes down with cold-like symptoms, he advocates common sense: If they are sick, keep them at home. Avoid events with large crowds, such as play gyms, birthday parties, or other types of kid-centric businesses.

If a child does fall ill, here are some things to keep in mind.

If your otherwise healthy kid has a low-grade fever, Greissman says you should call your doctor, list the symptoms your child is experiencing, and inquire as to whether or not you should come in.

From there, Greissman notes a few answers to common scenarios parents might encounter.

  • If your child has a fever, and when the fever comes down, your child is otherwise consolable, active, and drinking, do not worry. Keep an active eye; but these are signs that, per Greissman, your kid is feeling much better.
  • If your child has a fever but is drinking, then your child is likely on the up and up.
  • If your child has a fever, but is playful and acting normally, do not worry.
  • If the child’s high-fever breaks, but they still look miserable and sick at 99 degrees, Dr. Greissman notes that would be very concerning, and that he would want to see them.
  • If a child’s fever breaks and they are acting otherwise normally, he suggests parents keep an eye on the warning signs — looking miserable; not eating or drinking; not using the restroom; sleeping a lot and still feeling exhausted — and to call back if those symptoms arise.

Greissman notes that he would be very concerned — and ask a patient to come in — if the child won’t drink, hasn’t wet a diaper or gone to the restroom in 12 hours, and/or if they wake up very tired.

What if my Immunocompromised Child Has Coronavirus Symptoms?

This is a bit trickier, as immunocompromised children are more at risk. And Dr. Greissman says his threshold for concern is higher if they’re exhibiting symptoms.

“If an immunocompromised patient, especially right now, with Coronavirus plus all of the other viruses, has a fever of 101 or 102 and doesn’t look stellar, I want to see them,” he says.

Greissman also suggests that if other family members are ill and a child with underlying conditions has a fever over 102, call and plan to go in.

Parents of immunocompromised kids, as they would do normally, should err on the side of caution and not be afraid to call. “If it’s three in the morning and your child with congenital heart disease just doesn’t look right, let’s take a peek at that child in the ER.”

“If it’s a 10-minute ER visit, and the kid looks well, so be it,” Dr. Greissman says. “But, immunocompromised patients need to be seen more, because one thing we do know about COVID-19, it hits debilitated patients hard.”

Above All Else, Exercise Common Sense

Both Greissman and Jones agree that parents should execute good common sense over the next few weeks, as schools close and as social life scales back. Avoiding parties, public spaces, grandparents or anyone with presumptive colds is a good idea. Practice good hand washing (You know the drill: Scrub with soap and water for at least 20 seconds).

Jones also notes that it’s important for parents to stay as outwardly calm as possible — even if they might be freaking out.

“Children react a lot to our anxiety,” she says. “It’s important for us as parents, and as adults, to make sure our kids stay calm, and that we all get through this without them being totally freaked out.”

And, of course, if you or your kids have any symptoms of fever, a dry cough, shortness of breath, or fatigue or muscle soreness, it could be a flu, or it could be COVID-19. Stay safe, self-quarantine, call your provider, ask questions, and, again, wash your hands.

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