Children and COVID-19: What to Know

July 23, 2020

woman helps kid with hand sanitzier and mask Hover image

There is no doubt the pandemic has been stressful for everyone. This is especially true for parents. 

There are a lot of unknowns with novel coronavirus, but BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina’s Dr. Matt Bartels, vice president and chief medical officer, provides some answers to common questions parents may have about the pandemic’s effect on children.

What do we know about children and COVID-19? 

We are continuously learning with this new virus. It does appear that healthy children are less seriously affected by it. There are exceptions for children with underlying medical conditions, and South Carolina recently had its first pediatric death due to COVID-19. 

Recent data in South Carolina shows that about 15 percent of overall coronavirus cases are from those younger than 20. You can find more information on children and COVID-19 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention* (CDC). 

What about the multisystem inflammatory syndrome? 

We are still evolving in our understanding about this. Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children is a condition where different body parts can become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes or gastrointestinal organs. 

The syndrome can be serious, even deadly, but most children who were diagnosed with this condition thus far have gotten better with medical care.

While concerning, there is no reason to panic, as it is a small number of children (300 worldwide) who have been affected by multisystem inflammatory syndrome. What we do know is that you should seek medical attention immediately if your child presents with unusual symptoms. Find more on what to look for on the CDC’s website here.

Should children still be going to the doctor, even for non-emergency reasons? 

You should always consult with your health care provider if you have concerns. You may not need to bring them in to the office, however. During the pandemic, there have been many improvements including the way patients are triaged. Many doctors’ offices have embraced new technology, such as telehealth visits. However, if your child is sick, you should absolutely always consult your doctor. 

Should children go in for well checkups and vaccines? 

You should check with your doctor’s office. Some well checkups, especially for older children, may be able to be done virtually. The prioritization is on children under 2 years old, who should always be seen in person. We are observing that some patients are delaying getting necessary vaccines and screening tests, but with the right protocols these can all be completed safely. I would urge everyone to do their best to stay up to date on these visits.

As far as activities go for children, what should parents consider? 

Use common sense and follow recommendations from the CDC. Find more safety tips for getting out during re-opening here

Don’t travel too far from home, and avoid large group play. It’s mentally and physically beneficial for kids to go out and play to get exercise, but it is important for them to maintain social distancing. Older children should wear masks. Stay outside and keep at least six feet from others.

Is there anyone who shouldn’t wear a mask? 

Children under 2 or anyone with trouble breathing shouldn’t wear a mask. Over the age of 2, children should wear masks with adult supervision. Children over the age of 2 should wear a mask when they are in public settings – especially indoor areas, when around people who are not in their household, or when they are unable to maintain social distance. 

This is important because COVID-19 is spread person to person through respiratory droplets. We know that wearing a face covering is important in slowing the spread of the disease.  

What should parents of infants know about COVID-19? 

Thankfully, what we have seen with this pandemic is that it really does appear to be affecting children in much less severe ways than older people and people with chronic health conditions. That doesn’t mean children are completely immune. It simply means they tend to be very mildly affected, and in many cases, asymptomatic, including infants. That doesn’t mean they can’t get sick. It just means that their risk appears to be much less as an age group. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, there was worry that it would affect the younger infants more severely like the influenza virus often does. The good news is that unlike influenza, COVID-19 does not appear to be severely affecting infants in large numbers. 

Certainly, everyone is susceptible to getting this disease, and it appears that many can be carriers of the virus. However, infants shouldn’t be considered at higher risk  than other children, and with the right precautions  families with infants can safely venture out of their homes. 

The same precautionary rules apply to parents of infants. Don’t overexpose your infants. Keep your distance. Non-household contacts should stay at least 6 feet apart. Wash your hands. Wear a mask if over age 2 years. 

What should you do if a parent gets COVID-19? 

Consult with your doctor and your pediatrician. Make sure you follow CDC guidance, and isolate from family if possible. Make sure that children and any other caregivers wear masks and minimize close contact to limit exposure. 

The CDC recommends having a sick room in your house if possible. Use it to keep anyone infected with the disease separate from others. If you can’t do that, wearing a mask in the house has been shown to limit the spread of the disease. 

Find more about what to do if you are sick here

How should parents be talking with kids about the coronavirus? 

The CDC website has very good advice on this. Keep the discussion factual. Minimize the fear. Let kids express themselves. And most importantly, keep the conversation going. 

Parents should watch for signs of withdrawal and depression in their children. Don’t let them worry in silence. Kids are intelligent and they are susceptible to the same fears and concerns as adults. Talk to them and provide ways for them to stay active and to do so safely. Communication is very important during these unprecedented times. 

Other ideas for practicing good mental health for your kids:

  • Take a break from the news and social media
  • Get outside
  • Maintain a healthy routine 
  • Find fun activities to do together so that kids have something to look forward to 
  • Focus on healthy eating and exercise (you can find some ideas for this here

It’s been undoubtedly stressful for everyone. This has forced everyone to slow down, and that’s not a bad thing. Hopefully this can be a healthy reset on all of our priorities.

*The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is an independent organization that provides health information you may find helpful.

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