Have you been talking to your kids about Coronavirus?
Concerns about COVID-19, more commonly known as the Coronavirus, are sweeping the nation.
The disease that has infected thousands and taken hundreds of lives in China in the past three months touched down in the United States this February and people are starting to panic. Some of those people may be your children.
They will have questions, they will have concerns, they may even be freaking out a little over this whole situation.
Totally understandable though, right?
With the constant influx of media and news coverage, including an abundance of fake news and arguably a bit of fear mongering, even full functioning adults are starting to lose their minds a little over the threat of this illness.
People are buying up face masks and hand sanitizer in bulk and stockpiling food and toilet paper in preparation of a quarantine –self-imposed or otherwise. And, in a wholly unnecessary and entirely ill-informed effort to maintain their physical health, some people have even sworn off Corona beer as a precaution. (Listen, this is silly. Corona beer has absolutely nothing to do with Coronavirus. Whoever came up with this nonsense, please stop what you’re doing.)
It’s no wonder your kids have questions about Coronavirus.
Curious about the truth and hoping to find some reassurances, mine brought up their concerns about contracting and possibly succumbing to Coronavirus over dinner recently. We had a real talk about what’s true, what isn’t, and how they can protect themselves and our family in the upcoming days and weeks as we figure out what impact this virus will have on life in America.
What we talked about seemed to put them at ease. Hopefully, when it comes to talking to your kids about Coronavirus, some of what I share below will help your children as well.
Knowing the truth about the virus and realistic prevention strategies will only help you and your children make healthy, informed decisions during this time.
Talking to Your Kids About Coronavirus: Questions Your Kids May Have and How to Answer Them
What is a pandemic?
When talking to your kids: A pandemic is just a word that means people all over the world have the same illness. It doesn’t mean you’re going to get it, that anyone is going to take you away from your family, or that you will die.
What you need to know: The definition of the word pandemic is specifically, “the worldwide spread of a new disease”. It’s different from a simple outbreak—when a higher occurrence of a specific disease is seen—or an epidemic—a regional uptick in cases or certain health behaviors or events—because it is one that spreads across the world.
When you see the word pandemic online, it is often accompanied by images of people running through the streets in chaos while zombies, real or imagined, chase them, scary government people in masks ghostbusting, and old timey photos of people clearly suffering while receiving rudimentary health care from the guy who also probably put shoes on their horses.
Case. In. Point.
Article from National Geographic…
Article from Forbes…
Article from the Washington Post…
The word pandemic paired with this type of imagery understandably sparks unnecessary fear among those who encounter it.
Is everyone in the world going to get Coronavirus?
When talking to your kids: We don’t exactly know what will happen, but pandemics don’t infect ALL of the people. Think of it like the flu. It has been called a pandemic and sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’t.
What you need to know: There is a lot of data collection and sciency stuff that goes into determining when a disease is to be considered a true pandemic. For now, they are describing the disease as an epidemic as they are seeing, “linked epidemics of COVID-19 in several countries”. Because most of those cases can be linked to known contacts or clusters of cases, and officials don’t note evidence of spreading within communities. You can monitor the situation on the WHO site here: Rolling Coronavirus updates
Did someone make up Coronavirus to kill us?
When talking to kids: A new virus can be scary because doctors don’t know a ton about it or where it came from. But, new viruses generally happen frequently and this type of virus is born from the same family of viruses that causes others we’ve seen before. Lots of doctors all over the world are working very hard to do learn more about this illness and we hope they have medicines to help us soon like they do for the flu.
What you need to know: We are not dealing with some government fabricated super disease. This particular type of Coronavirus (and the disease it causes, COVID-19) is new, but Coronaviruses in general are not. They are also responsible for the SARS illness and other illnesses we have battled before.
You can read about Coronaviruses here: What Are Coronaviruses
Previous illnesses resulting from Coronaviruses have been somewhat less concerning mainly because they are a) less severe (like the common cold, also caused by a Coronavirus), and/or b) easier to contain (like the SARS outbreak of 2003) due to infectiousness.
Because the incubation period on this Coronavirus is so long (they think it could be at least two weeks!), people could be contagious and not know it.
Are we gonna die from it?
When talking to kids: Probably not. People who are very old and sick are most likely to suffer the most from this disease. We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future but, like with the flu, doctors are working really hard to learn everything they can about this disease and how to treat it and stop it. Plus, so far, kids haven’t suffered as much or as severely as adults so hopefully that means it’s not as contagious to kids.
What you need to know: The fact is that already some people have died from COVID-19 and many have gotten very ill and we anticipate that this number will continue to rise. The same, however can be said for the flu.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there have been 32 million flu illnesses, 310,000 hospitalizations and 18,000 deaths from flu in the United States so far this season, and that number is expected to climb as the season continues.
In comparison, COVID-19 has led to more than 75,000 illnesses and 2,000 deaths, most of which are concentrated in mainland China.
A study done by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that about 81% of people who are infected with the coronavirus have mild cases of COVID-19 which explains the relatively lower death toll.
However, this information should be received with caution. Because the illness is so new, we don’t have the longitudinal data and understand about COVID-19 that we have about the flu and how it impacts people overtime is yet to be seen.
Are we all gonna start wearing masks around?
When talking to kids: No. For starters, those don’t really protect you from the illness so wearing them isn’t going to help you. Masks are only to be worn by people who are showing symptoms of already having the virus. So, if you’re healthy, you’re good without one.
For now, the best thing you can do to protect yourself and your family is wash your hands. Not just after you use the bathroom and not just before dinner. Every time you come in from being outside you should wash them. Make sure you use warm water and scrub them, with soap, for at least 20 seconds.
What you need to know: Because they don’t lay flush to the face, standard surgical masks can’t protect you from this illness so buying them up at ludicrous prices is really just wasting your money and limiting supply so sick people can’t get them.
Practicing proper hand hygiene is very important to the containment of this and every transmittable illness.
My lunch monitor said they might close school. Are they going to?
When talking to kids: Possibly. Sometimes school choose to close when they have a lot of sick people around like this since schools are places a lot of people go each day to interact. Closing the school for a while could make it easier to prevent people from getting sick. But, we won’t know for awhile if that is going to happen.
What you need to know: Public health officials often recommend school closures as a means of disease control and prevention. It is a reality that we need to prepare for.
Is the dog going to get it too? And can I still kiss her.
When talking to kids: I think the dog will be fine. You probably shouldn’t swap spit with the pooch anyway for a host of other reasons.
What you need to know: While this disease seems to have originated in animals, there is no evidence that human to pet transmission is occurring. Your house-dwelling dog and cat should be safe from contraction and transmission to your family members.