COVID-19 and Kids: What You Should Know

The Chief Medical Officer at Children's Hospital of Michigan discusses the virus and why social distancing is key to ensuring the safety of your children.

COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that made human contact in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, and is now a global pandemic, has swept through Michigan. As families cope with the repercussions of the widespread virus — which has led to a stay-at-home executive order here in Michigan — many parents may be concerned about the impact of the disease on their children.

“There’s a lot unknown about it still,” Rudolph P. Valentini, M.D. the chief medical officer at Children’s Hospital of Michigan, says of the disease. “What’s interesting to me about it is that three members of the same family can get it and one can have the sniffles, one can have a terrible cough and one can be on a ventilator, and they can all have had the same virus. The response of the individual, the patient who gets infected can be quite variable, even if it’s in the same house.”

How do kids tend to respond to the virus, and when should parents worry? Here, Valentini offers insight and advice on how to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Symptoms

The most common symptoms of the coronavirus are cough and shortness of breath, which can be very intense. However, symptoms can range from fevers to cold-like symptoms to diarrhea. Some may have mild symptoms while others have more intense symptoms.

When it comes to when symptoms may appear, Valentini says that an individual who is exposed on the first of the month, for example, might start to get symptoms on the sixth of the month, and then about six to 10 days after the sixth of the month that person is at risk for developing severe symptoms.

“CDC doesn’t usually clear people for 14 days post exposure,” he notes.

While all of us are at risk of being infected, Valentini notes that children who do contract the virus tend to recover better than adults.

“We’ve seen children come to our emergency department with cold-like symptoms that were in a little bit of distress and the doctors in the emergency department went ahead and tested them, and it came back positive for COVID-19,” he says. “But they weren’t even sick enough to need oxygen, they weren’t sick enough to come into the hospital. They went home and recovered on their own.”

However, if you’re concerned about your child’s level of alertness, or they look like they are having trouble breathing (flared nostrils, or you can see their ribs when they are breathing), go to ER immediately, Valentini suggests.

“The asymptomatic patient is probably the most dangerous one,” he says. “So we’ve taken the stance at our institution to presume everybody has it.”

Prevention

Because COVID-19 is primarily spread from person-to-person, limited contact is key to preventing the spread of this disease. If a child were to have COVID-19, that child is putting family members at risk. If a grandparent were to come over, he or she could get the virus and would likely have a worse reaction to it. So, just because the child is handling the virus with little complication does not mean that those around the child will have a similar reaction.

“That’s why social distancing is the best thing we can do right now,” Valentini says. This includes remaining at home with only the members of your household and staying at least 6 feet away from people if you need to go out for any reason.

Don’t let children play outdoors with their friends. They can play solo but interacting with anyone outside of their household should be prohibited.

“I think for the most part going for walks, going for a bike rides and going for jogs is probably pretty healthy to do, but you can’t do it in packs,” he notes, because that close proximity is where this virus will spread.

“It’s a bit paranoid but this virus has proven that it’s much more infectious than most could have ever have imagined,” he says.

Although we are in the midst of a pandemic Dr. Valentini wants to ensure that parents know the hospital is taking all of the necessary safety precautions, and that it is safe to bring children to the hospital for emergencies, medically necessary procedures and wellness visits.

For more information on Children’s Hospital of Michigan, visit childrensdmc.org.

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