We want parents to have the most reliable information about COVID-19, so we will update this article with new information as it becomes available.

UPDATED 19/03/20: We added information about how long the virus lives on different surfaces, self-isolating, updated our advice for pregnant woman, added information about conception, and added advice for parents of newborns and infants.

Every day seems to bring another nerve-wracking headline about coronavirus, so you could be forgiven for feeling like you’re in a weird sci-fi movie. With so much information about this new disease swirling around the internet, it can be hard to sort fact from fiction—which makes it a big challenge just to figure out how best to keep your family healthy. So, consider this a fact-checked, “to our best knowledge” guide to coronavirus. 

What is coronavirus?

Coronavirus is actually the name for a whole family of related viruses. Most of them just cause mild colds (think: sniffling and sneezing). But this new outbreak is caused by a totally unknown, coronavirus that was never seen before 2019. The official name for this unexpected addition to the world of pathogens is COVID-19 (from coronavirus disease 2019). 

How is COVID-19 spread?

Like colds, COVID-19 is usually spread in one of two ways: 1) touching something that an infected person touched, then putting your fingers on your face (it enters through your eyes, nose, or mouth) or 2) from tiny droplets that burst out of a sick person's mouth when she or he coughs or sneezes (especially if you are within 6 feet).

A new study by the NIH reported that COVID-19 is gone from cardboard surfaces by 24 hours. On hard surfaces (like doorknobs and tables) 50% is gone in 6 hours, and there is no trace in 2 to 3 days. In the air, under very specific lab conditions (very tiny droplets in a closed container that is constantly rotating at 65% humidity), half of the virus was inactive within 1 hour and by 2 hours 75% was gone.

What does all that mean in the real world?

You should clean any hard surfaces that others have touched and wash hands after opening cardboard boxes or put them aside for a day or so to let any virus die (porous surfaces dry up moisture, causing the virus’ “body” to break apart).

But what about in the air? Like with colds or the flu, tiny droplets from coughing and sneezing can carry illness, but the NIH study may overstate the length of time it lasts in the air. Virus sprayed in a closed, rotating drum of moist air is very different than walking through a store. In the real world, sneezes send out the most wet droplets—coughs quite a bit less—and most droplets are pulled to the ground by gravity and get dissipated and dry out by air flow much sooner.

So, the risk is still greatest from being in close contact with someone who is sick and hand to face exposure. “Hand-washing trumps everything,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease.

Use tissues to cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, throw the tissue away and then wash your hands to eliminate the germs. 

In addition, please stay at least 6 feet away from people and avoid congested public places as much as possible. And, if you are coughing or sneezing, please wear a mask…and, if you don’t have one, cough/sneeze into your shirt or a scarf or your elbow. 

Are we close to a COVID-19 treatment or vaccine?

It seems today’s news is a constant flow of scary news, but there are some bright spots on the horizon. Hundreds of scientists are scrambling to discover new drugs to fight  the infection, and there are several that may have promise

Also, in an exciting advance, scientists in Israel have developed a COVID-19 vaccine! The next steps will require 6 to 12 months of extensive testing to make sure it is safe and effective for children and adults of all ages. 

How bad is coronavirus for kids?

This is pretty interesting: Some viruses, like influenza, are hardest on both ends of our families—infants and elderly. Others, like RSV (the bronchiolitis virus) are much worse for little kids. Babies often take months to recover from RSV, but for adults it’s little more than a cold. Likewise, Zika may give adults fever, but cause brain damage to a developing fetus. On the other hand, other viruses are much worse for adults. Mononucleosis (caused by Epstein-Barr virus) often causes no symptoms in infected kids, yet can lead to months of chronic fatigue in adults.

So, where does coronavirus fit in? 

It appears that COVID-19 is pretty minor for minors. Kids may have no symptoms at all, while it can be life threatening to older adults. This means the elderly need to be protected from children, not vice versa. So, if your kiddo is getting sick or has been exposed to the virus, you should definitely postpone that trip to Grandma’s!

Pregnancy and COVID-19

What do pregnant women need to know about coronavirus?

Pregnant women’s bodies undergo changes that can increase susceptibility to viral infections. However, there’s no clear evidence about the risk to mamas-to-be—or their babies inside—from COVID-19. For example, we don’t yet know if it can—or can’t—be transmitted through amniotic fluid or breastmilk. Of course, to be safe, if you’re pregnant take all the usual precautions, like tons of hand washing and steering clear of crowded public places and sick people.

Should pregnant women plan on self-isolating for longer than the general public to protect their babies from COVID-19?

At this time, very little is known about COVID-19, particularly related to its effect on pregnant women and infants, and there currently are no recommendations specific to pregnant women regarding the evaluation or management of COVID-19.

To the best of our knowledge, young children do not seem to be very effected by the virus. In limited recent case series of Chinese infants born to mothers infected with COVID-19, none of the infants have tested positive for COVID-19.

What about breastfeeding and coronavirus?

When possible, it is healthiest for babies to breastfeed. Breastmilk contains white blood cells and antibodies that help fight against infection. Moms with COVID-19 (or moms who are getting ill with a cold or fever and cough) should avoid spreading the virus to her infant by washing hands before touching the infant and wearing a face mask, while breastfeeding. It is also advised to wash hands before touching any pump or bottle parts and follow recommendations for proper pump cleaning after each use.

In very limited report to date, no virus has been found in the breastmilk of women infected with COVID-19. (The CDC has developed Interim Guidance on Breastfeeding for a Mother Confirmed or Under Investigation for COVID-19.)

Is now a good time to conceive?

This period will pass. Pandemics don’t last forever, and we will develop vaccines and medical treatments for COVID-19.  So, our best guess now is that getting pregnant over the next 6 months should not pose an added risk to mothers or babies. The American Society of Reproductive Medicine has advised that TK, but you should speak to your doctor to determine the best course of treatment.

Self-Isolation and COVID-19

Do I need to keep my family at home—and for how long?

This is such an important question, but unfortunately, we just don’t know the answer yet. It all depends on individuals and families staying home now, to reduce the spread of the virus. In reality, if everyone could stay home for the next 3 weeks, the spread in the US would be over. However, it is very possible that this highly contagious period will last at least 3 to 6 months.

What if daycare is still open?

Unfortunately, that is not a good idea. Even though little kids usually don’t get strong symptoms from COVID-19, they can still catch it and shed the virus for a week or two. And, keeping your distance is completely impossible in a day care setting. So, you can imagine how easily this illness would spread through a community from children carrying the virus home to their families.

Is it okay if my nanny still comes?

Yes, but… Needless to say, it is impossible to practice 100% social isolation. However, the more people with whom you have close exposure, the higher the risk. 

How long do I need to keep my children at home? And does that mean we can’t go outside at all?

This depends on whether or not your community has strict prohibitions on being outside. In most places, you can definitely take the kids outside and get fresh air and play, but you don’t want to visit places where they will be touching surfaces that other kids recently touched. Also, you will want to limit contact with other children. When they do plan to come over, make sure they’re healthy, wash their hands and faces (faces get germs from hand touching)…and have a stack of fresh t-shirts they can put on, so they’re not carrying virus into your home on their shirts. Unfortunately, this is going to be a long several months.

How does COVID-19 affect newborns and infants?

We have yet to see how COVID-19 may affect newborns and infants differently than older children, but we do know that in the first 4 months of life babies are especially vulnerable to illness. Here are a few practical tips to help protect newborns and infants from COVID-19:   

  • Wash your hands with lots of scrubbing and rubbing before holding or touching your baby (and make everyone else who comes into contact with your baby do the same.)
  • Avoid crowds.
  • Say no to visitors (especially child visitors).
  • If you have a toddler or preschooler at home, make sure you’re washing his/her hands and face right when they get home to keep germs in check.
  • Make visitors put on a clean shirt before holding the baby. Though COVID-19 doesn’t seem to live as long on soft surfaces, viruses can live on clothes.
  • Breastfeed if you can. Breastmilk is filled with antibodies that can help boost a baby’s immune system.

What are the symptoms of coronavirus in kids?

Reports from China suggest that when kids do get sick, COVID-19 causes no symptoms at all, or merely mimics a common cold. However, some children are at risk for greater symptoms, including:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain

When should I see the doctor about coronavirus?

If your child has a history of asthma or other chest issues, the cough and wheezing may be particularly problematic. So, it’s a good idea to call your doctor now to ask if your child should start breathing medicine if signs of COVID-19 begin.

Tips for preventing the coronavirus:

To reduce your risk of catching—or spreading—the coronavirus, follow these tips:

  • Teach tots how to wash hands the right way! That means scrubbing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. (That’s about as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday”…twice!)
  • No soap and water around? Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Or, at the very least, wipe your hands vigorously with a tissue or paper towel, then throw it away.
  • Sit more than 6 feet from people.
  • Avoid people who are sneezing or coughing.
  • Stay up to date with other vaccines, including the flu shot.
  • If you have asthma, make sure you’re taking your medication.
  • Try not to touch your nose, mouth, and eyes.
  • Wash your hands, lots. (I know I said that already, but it’s super important!)
  • If you are sick, wear a mask to protect others.
  • Clean/disinfect frequently touched objects, like doorknobs and toys.
  • Cough into a tissue or into the crook of your arm instead of into your hand (this is a great habit to pass on to your toddler!)
  • Stay home if you’re sick and keep your kids home when they are sick.
  • Get lots of sleep to keep your immune system strong. 

If you’re worried about the coronavirus…you’re not alone! But I hope you can breathe a little easier knowing that by reducing your little ones’ exposure to the virus and teaching your tots some basic hygiene habits, you’re doing your best to keep your family healthy…and to help other families stay healthy too. (Note: Want more information? Visit the World Health Organization website.)

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