Don’t Freak Out (Just) Yet: A Worried Parent’s Guide to Coronavirus

As coronavirus, or COVID-19, reaches metro Detroit, families are concerned. What should we do? What about our kids? A Romulus mom offers perspective.

Child's hands pumping soap

Fever. Coughing. Runny nose. Sore throat. And, in severe cases, difficulty breathing. Those are the unpleasant (and potentially deadly) symptoms of the coronavirus, COVID-19, which made its way to Michigan recently.

The first two people were officially diagnosed in Wayne and Oakland counties, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced during a press conference March 10. Whitmer said that the state has prepared for this moment for weeks.

“We’ll continue to take every step we can to prevent the spread of the virus and keep Michiganders safe,” Whitmer says.

She also went on to encourage people to use their best judgment to keep themselves, and others around them, safe.

But what does that mean for the health of our kids, who can be extra germ-prone? On top of everything else that comes with parenthood stressors, how do we deal with this?

Don’t panic — and keep communication with kids strong

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It’s sounds simple. But believe me, I know it’s not easy. Personally speaking, my 4-year-old can be the worst nightmare of a germaphobe. (Have we met yet? I’m Sherri, and I hate germs.)

This kid eats things off the floor well beyond the 10-second rule, sneezes open-mouthed (a bit too close to his younger brother’s face, might I add) and tries to wash his hands without soap if he thinks I’m not paying attention.

Let’s not even mention my worries about when he goes to school full time. On average, school-age kids can get up to about 10 colds a year.

Yet how can we get young kids, and older ones, to grasp the gravity of COVID-19 and not freak out? As parents, we lead the way.

I, like many other moms, try to shield my children from the harsh realities of this world, while informing them about age-appropriate matters. But this is the time to tell your kids, in an age appropriate manner, about COVID-19.

Talk to them in a calm and collected manner, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. Let them know they have the power to reduce the spread of germs by sneezing into their elbow, washing their hands with hot water and soap and by giving everyone their personal space that this helps protect against COVID-19.

Make yourself available to talk to your kids and answer their questions. Also – and this is a big one — “consider reducing the amount of screen time focused on COVID-19,” the CDC adds. “Too much information on one topic can lead to anxiety.”

That’s good advice for parents, too, in our hyper-social-media-connected lives.

OK, so maybe I panicked a bit; now I’m focusing on what I can control

As mentioned, I’m a slight germaphobe. I’ve been one ever since I discovered, as a child, that when I leave the toilet seat open after flushing, small water particles could fly in the air and settle on my toothbrush — that I put in my mouth.

Enduring countless colds caught from others over my lifetime hasn’t helped, either.

So when I was inundated with stories about the devastating COVID-19 outbreak, my first instinct was to do what any introvert would do: Stay home.

But it’s hard as an employed wife and mother of two. I have to go to work, pick up the kids, get groceries, etc. So, like many others, I slightly panicked and stocked up on cleaning wipes, soap and sanitizer (more on that in a minute).

I also read up on what to do to protect yourself, and others, from it. As KidsHealth from Nemours notes, this includes:

  • Washing your hands (sing “Happy Birthday” twice, or have fun with this Wash Your Lyrics site that pairs directions with lyrics from a favorite song)
  • Trying not to touch your face – especially the eyes, nose and mouth
  • Sanitizing surfaces that a lot of people come in contact with
  • Also avoiding contact with people who are sick

Supply and demand (i.e., the quest for soap, sanitizer and toilet paper)

Speaking of grocery stores, you’ve probably seen reports of people (like me) buying up necessities like hand sanitizer, toilet paper and soap. Maybe you’ve already braved the crowds or encountered the empty store racks yourself.

On the surface, it makes sense. The risk is real, so parents and others are stocking up on essentials before the shelves are bare — if that happens.

Even so, parents should thoughtfully purchase supplies and not “panic shop” and unnecessarily purchase items out of fear.

The Kroger Co. CEO Rodney McMullen sent a message to shoppers like myself recently about the coronavirus and keeping customers accommodated and safe.

“We believe that everyone deserves to have access to fresh, affordable food and essentials, especially in times of uncertainty,” his statement said. “That’s why our teams are working so hard to keep our stores clean, open and stocked. That’s why we took the precautionary step on March 2 to limit the number of cold, flu and sanitary products per order … so everyone can have access to the items they need.”

Even in the best-case scenarios, supplies run low. According to USA Today, primary household essentials like hand sanitizer, hand and dish soap and cleaning wipes are flying off shelves — along with somewhat less-expected items like toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning wipes, laundry detergent and diapers (CNN has an interesting article about why TP is such a hot commodity).

If you happen to be home for a lengthy period of time, it might be a good idea to purchase a few extra supplies (whether in person or via online delivery) to have on hand.

How much is enough? During a pandemic — which coronavirus has been declared by the World Health Organization — store a two-week supply of water and food for people and pets alike, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security notes.

Buying dry and easy-to-prepare canned goods is ideal, Business Insider adds, and stock up on dry goods such as beans, rice, oats and the like.

Meeting in the middle: getting informed and being prepared

Once I determined that I have to be proactive and not a recluse, I took a breath, washed my hands and cleared my head.

I researched and learned from the CDC that children don’t seem to be at that high of a risk for getting COVID-19, and that brought some of my mommy fears and anxieties down. Those who are more likely at a higher chance of catching the virus are older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and lung disease.

I also learned if COVID-19 reeks havoc in the community, local public health officials may choose to close schools and child care facilities to help reduce its spread. Schools and universities locally, such as the University of Michigan, have also temporarily stopped in-person classes, opting for online sessions.

I’ve recently seen the worry etched in the faces of my co-workers who have to halt their plans to get their college-age kids home from school for spring break. In a similar vein, working parents of younger kids should have backup child care options on hand in case their primary facility closes, too.

You might also want to have that conversation with your boss about what remote work might look like for you, if possible. And maybe rethink those spring vacation plans out of town?

But, most of all, at this pivotal time in our country and our world. For our children’s sake, and yours, be a positive force in their worlds — and please don’t panic.

Lastly, if you think you or your child has been exposed to COVID-19, call your doctor and their pediatrician immediately.For more information about COVID-19, go to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

For more information about COVID-19, go to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

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