How to Prepare for the Coronavirus: A Parent’s Guide

This week the CDC said the virus will likely spread to the United States. Don’t panic. Get ready.

by Jillian Mock
Originally Published: 
A parent helping their toddler wash her hands in the bathroom

On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control made an alarming announcement about the novel coronavirus that has been rapidly spreading around the globe and is probably coming for the United States. CDC officials stressed that Americans should start preparing now for significant disruptions to daily life should the virus start spreading in U.S. communities the way it has in other parts of the world. But what exactly should people be doing to prepare? The CDC’s announcements left infuriatingly little in the way of details. Parents and kids worried about the coronavirus seem to be given little recourse but panic.

Not yet. There are some silver linings to this virus, now technically called SARS-CoV2, short for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (its other names are Wuhan virus, novel coronavirus-2019, and COVID-19 virus). For one, according to the data at hand, it spreads at about the same rate as the flu — and is so far less fatal. For kids especially, early indications find that this virus is, in fact, a minor threat. Parents, you may now breathe.

Still, all indications show that this virus spreads fast, seems to have a frighteningly long incubation period, and, scariest of all, no one knows how bad it could get. “It’s an evolving situation,” says Dr. Vanessa Raabe, assistant professor of pediatric infectious diseases at the NYU Langone Vaccine Center. And in such situations, there are two things to do: Assess the knowns and take all the action you can based on those facts.

Also, wash your damned hands. There is hands-down no better way to prevent a virus from spreading. Here are the known facts on the coronavirus, and what parents (and kids) can do about them.

Fact: Symptoms of Coronavirus Include Fever, Cough, Shortness of Breath, and, Probably More?

If we’re going to be honest, there’s not enough data to know the usual severity of the above symptoms, nor if they’re all that comes with SARS-CoV2. Furthermore, what we do know shows that the severity of symptoms varies greatly with some infected people having few, minor symptoms while others fall severely ill.What parents can do: Don’t know what’s coming at you? Take the time to stock up on the basics. This would include cough drops, painkillers, elderberry (there’s decent evidence this helps shorten viral infections and cuts down mucus), tea and soup (hot liquids!), and ibuprofen for that fever. Based on what the CDC is saying so far, it seems like the coronavirus brings more cough than snot — but get the tissues in case. Because if you get the coronavirus, you should probably not leave your house…

Fact: If You Are Diagnosed With Coronavirus, the CDC Recommends a 14-Day Quarantine

If you aren’t sick enough to be hospitalized, stay two weeks in your own room and preferably with your own bathroom, says Dr. Raabe. Some people have experienced diarrhea or upset stomach with the virus and it’s not yet clear if that is another way the virus is spread.

If you start to feel ill, Dr. Raabe recommends seeking medical attention quickly. It may not be SARS-CoV2 (at this point, it is very likely that you have the flu or a cold), but going to the doctor early on will help you get the treatment you need to get better, faster. If you have reason to think you could have been exposed to SARS-CoV2, either because you came in contact with someone who was exposed or could have been exposed directly through travel, you should mention that to your provider.

What parents can do: There are a few things you should consider grabbing from the store in advance (that means now) in case you contract the virus. Stock up on daily medications (have at least a 30-day supply on hand), keep common medications like painkillers and the like on hand, have food staples and nonperishables, and household cleaners and paper towels — to keep your house from being an incubation den for the rest of the family. If you have small children, be sure to have a store of diapers and wipes. Oh, and make sure you’re internet bill is paid — because 14 days is a long time to stay inside without the aid of Disney+.

Fact: The Coronavirus Can Spread by Contact

While there is still a lot we are still learning about COVID-19, it does seem to spread when people come in contact with people, surfaces, or air particles from a sneeze or cough carrying the virus, says Dr. Raabe. That’s very similar to the flu or the common cold, which means the health precautions you already know and love during flu season apply to the coronavirus, too.

What parents can do: Wash your hands (this bears repeating) and make sure your children wash their hands frequently. Stay home if you are sick, or keep your child at home if they are sick, to prevent spreading illness. Cough into your elbow. Keep surfaces in the home clean, and stop yourself from touching your face and mouth after touching any surface that could carry a virus.

Fact: Children Don’t Seem to Be as Affected by COVID-19

Parents can breathe slightly easier, as the disease does not seem to have a strong effect on little ones so far. It’s not clear, however, if they can spread the disease if infected and not showing symptoms. Adults, and men, in particular, are much more susceptible to the virus (this trend is not unusual when it comes to viral illness).

What parents can do: Guess what? Wash your hands! Make your child wash their hands! Wash them again! Frankly, it’s all you’ve got here.

Fact: The Virus Is Highly Contagious

The virus has proved extremely spreadable. It has a long incubation time, and some people exhibit only mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, leaving them free to go to work and home and to the supermarket without realizing they are ill. One expert told The Atlantic that he expects within the coming year, 40 to 70 percent of people around the world will get this infection — many of the cases very mild.

What parents can do: Figure out some social distancing measures. Call your child’s school and ask what the plan is if the virus starts spreading rapidly in your community — or get the ball rolling on discussing this plan. You can take similar steps at work, making sure there is a work from home or other strategy in place should the major disruptions the CDC predicts come to pass.

Another thing parents can do: Wash those hands, clean surfaces, cough into your elbows.

Fact: Face Masks Probably Won’t Keep You From Getting the Virus

There is a temptation to strap on a face mask when you go out in public to keep all those germs out. But there actually isn’t good evidence that these masks help. If someone in your family does get sick, they can help reduce the spread by wearing a mask themselves, says Dr. Raabe. There is also some concern that a run on masks by the panicked public could reduce the amount available for medical professionals, who actually do benefit from wearing protective gear.

What parents can do: Resist the urge to stockpile masks, hand sanitizer, and the like. Why? Because washing your damn hands is the most effective measure to preventing infection.

Fact: The Relentless Media Coverage Can Overshadow More Pressing Threats

So far this season, the flu has killed 16,000 people and put 280,000 people have in the hospital. This by far remains the biggest threat to families.

What parents can do: It’s not too late to get a flu shot, and this year’s vaccine has proved to have 55 percent effectiveness for children, so all the more worth getting.

So there you have it: Make a plan should the coronavirus start to spread, wash your hands, maybe keep an eye on the CDC website for updates, and get ready your escape room (and bathroom).

This article was originally published on