Originally posted March 3, 2020
Updated March 17, 2020
Updated April 6, 2020
Since December, the world has been inundated with news about the latest coronavirus, which began in Wuhan, China. How contagious is it and just how concerned should we be? Emily Godbout, DO, MPH, a pediatric epidemiologist and infectious disease specialist, answered our top questions to provide some insight.
What should parents know about the coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are not new and are part of a large family of viruses that are common in people and animals. Traditionally, these viruses cause the common cold. Rarely, an animal coronavirus can infect people and then spread between people such as with severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and now with this new virus that is currently receiving a lot of media attention. Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), is the name of the infection caused by the virus. Multiple countries are reporting COVID-19 infections, including the United States.
This is an emerging and evolving situation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continue to provide updated guidance for our state and local health departments.
What are the symptoms?
Some patients with COVID-19 may not have any symptoms, while others may experience fever, cough, shortness of breath and sometimes pneumonia – ranging from mild to severe. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure.
How is it spread?
There is still much to learn about the new virus, including how easily it spreads. Based on what we currently know about other coronaviruses, spread occurs mostly from person-to-person through respiratory droplets among close contacts.
What is the best way to prevent it?
There isn’t a vaccine for COVID-19, so the best course of action is to avoid coming into contact with it. We recommend taking the same measures you would to prevent other respiratory infections, such as frequent hand washing with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer, covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue and then discarding the tissue in the trash, avoiding contact with people with cold or flu-like symptoms, refraining from touching your face and staying home when you’re sick. Children should not go to daycare or school when sick. It’s also a good idea to clean frequently-touched surfaces, such as counters, desks, phones, doorknobs and light switches, regularly.
What should someone do if they’ve been to an area with confirmed cases and believe they have contracted it?
Call ahead to a health care professional if you develop signs and symptoms of COVID-19, and have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19 or if you live in or have recently traveled to an area with ongoing spread.
What’s the role of a facemask in prevention?
The CDC now recommends wearing cloth face coverings over the nose and mouth in public, particularly when social distancing can be difficult (such when going to the grocery store). This can be a scarf or mask made from common household materials as demonstrated by the U.S. Surgeon General in this video. Please keep in mind that surgical masks and N-95 respirators are in limited supply and should be reserved for health care workers.
How is it treated?
Currently, there are no antiviral drugs recommended for COVID-19. Pain medication, fluids and rest may help alleviate symptoms in mild cases. If a patient needed to be admitted to the hospital with COVID-19, clinical management includes supportive management of complications (such as fluid or oxygen).
Does the virus affect children differently than adults?
Most confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection from China have occurred in adults. There is no evidence to suggest that children are more susceptible to the virus than adults. There are limited reports of children with COVID-19, and most have reported mild symptoms, such as fever, runny nose and cough. Severe cases in children have been reported, but they appear to be uncommon. Certain populations of children may be at increased risk of severe infection, such as children with underlying medical conditions.
What is the risk of acquiring COVID-19 in Virginia?
The risk for acquiring a COVID-19 infection here in Virginia continues to increase. Families should follow social distancing guidelines set forth by the government officials and the Centers for Disease Control. It is also important to continue engaging in activities to prevent spread of respiratory infections, including covering cough, cleaning hands often with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer and staying up to date on immunizations, including influenza.
What is CHoR doing to protect the community?
As part of VCU Health, we have worked closely with the infection control department, hospital leadership and our local and state health departments to prepare for COVID-19 in our community. We are confident in our health care system to effectively triage, diagnose and treat any patients suspected or confirmed to have a COVID-19 infection.
A COVID-19 hotline has been developed to answer your questions: 804-628-7425. We are also working to increase the availability of virtual visits for general pediatrics appointments related to runny nose, cough or fever. Appointments can be made by calling 804-828-CHOR (2467).
Wash your hands!
Washing your hands is one of the easiest things you can do to help prevent getting sick. Always wash your hands* (and your child’s hands!):
- Before, during and after preparing food
- Before eating
- Before and after caring for someone at home who is sick with vomiting or diarrhea
- Before and after treating a cut or wound
- After going to the bathroom
- After changing diapers or helping a child who has gone to the bathroom
- After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
- After touching an animal, feeding an animal or cleaning up animal waste
- After touching garbage
Teaching hand washing
The time you spend teaching children how to wash their hands can help reduce the transmission of an infection. Teach proper hand washing techniques and reinforce these lessons, especially with younger children who are still developing these habits:
- Wet your hands under running water
- Lather with soap by rubbing your hands together for at least 20 seconds – don’t forget the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails
- It can help to have your child sing the “Happy Birthday” song two times, as that equals at least 20 seconds
- Rinse your hands under clean, running water
- Dry your hands with a clean towel or air dry them
- Turn off the water with the towel covering your hands
When a child does it right, let them hear it from you so they’ll continue these good habits. Make a big deal about it with hugs, cheers and a “thumbs up.”
Use hand sanitizer properly
Sanitizer can be used when it is time to clean hands, but only when hands are not visibly dirty. With kids, some likely scenarios for using sanitizer include: before eating, after coming home from school or the store, when entering or leaving a doctor’s office or hospital, and after a playdate. Teach your children to ALWAYS wash with soap and water when their hands are visibly dirty/soiled and after using the bathroom or touching pets/animals.
Sanitizer should be dispensed by an adult or with an adult’s supervision. The child should rub the sanitizer over the front and back of their hands and continue rubbing until it dries.