Coronavirus and Your Family: What You Need To Know

Mommy MD, Dr. Julie Linderman answers parents’ most pressing questions about Coronavirus and how to protect families.

Kids washing hands to avoid covid.

What does Covid-19 mean for your family… for your little people, your spouse, your parents, you? The data is constantly evolving, as is the knowledge of how contagious and severe this virus really is. I hope I can allay your fears while still encouraging common sense precautions in your daily life. 

How contagious is this virus really?

At this point in time, the virus appears to be as contagious (if not slightly more) as the influenza virus. It is spread through droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes, and it is spread through fomites, virus particles existing on surfaces that are touched by a well person and inadvertently transferred to this person’s mucosa – through their nose, mouth or eyes. 

Maybe the real question is… if I get this virus, how sick will I become?

Again, with the knowledge we currently have, if you are under 60 years of age and without any significant medical conditions (esp chronic respiratory disease such as asthma or emphysema), you are unlikely to become severely ill with Covid-19. In fact, severe illness in people under 50 is rare. In children, severe illness is unprecedented. 

Is travel ok?

Per both the CDC and the NIH, if you are not over 60 years of age, there is no recommendation to limit domestic or international travel, except to areas cited on the CDC webpage – China, Italy, Japan, Iran, South Korea. However, It is recommended that you do not take a cruise, but I think this is mainly an issue regarding quarantine should passengers on board become sick. 

Should I live differently — avoid crowds, pull my child from daycare/school etc?

Children seem to fare well with this disease. Perhaps due to the cross immunity acquired through constant exposure to viruses causing the common cold – rhinovirus, common coronavirus, parainfluenza. It appears that a child’s robust immune system response to Covid-19 stems from the continuous exposure of little noses shedding bacterial and viral particles. This constant, microscopic onslaught of germs may be the origin of the unique resistance children seem to have to this virus, as the viral antigens of covid-19 share features of pathogens already known to the child. 

Who should we really be worried about?

Our parents, the grandparents of our children. The men and women in our communities that are 60, 70, 80+ years of age, especially those with chronic medical conditions such as emphysema, COPD and asthma. We do have an obligation to protect each other. So, washing hands and avoiding others when sick with a fever are common sense precautions we should always employ. The truth is, regardless of the virus, you are most likely to infect someone else when you have a fever. The viral load is higher during these times, and thus viral particle shedding will occur with coughing and sneezing to a much greater degree. It is possible you will transmit a virus with a low grade fever, but it is less likely than when actively ill.

 

Does a face mask help?

You have likely read that a face mask does not help prevent the mask-wearer from contracting infection, but rather from spreading infection to others. This is true, and generally speaking there is no indication to wear a mask if you are well.  However, if you are seated next to someone on a plane, for example, who appears visibly ill and is coughing profusely, common sense would dictate distancing yourself. Continued exposure to someone visibly ill does increase your odds of contracting an illness. If you cannot change seats, a mask in this case would be helpful. Just like a mask would be helpful for a healthcare worker caring for an actively sick individual. However, sitting outside at a park with a mask on, does absolutely nothing. In fact, I would bet the mask wearer touches his or her face more often than usual adjusting the mask, inoculating themselves with every microscopic germ on their hands every time. 

Uncertainty is one of parentings’ greatest hurdles. Nothing is more important than protecting our loved ones, but we also have to live our lives. It is very important to stay abreast of new data and recommendations regarding Covid-19 as the landscape regarding this illness changes daily. I still believe in the sound advice given by two very conservative entities, the CDC and the NIH, regarding this disease and the steps we can take to minimize transmission and keep ourselves safe. At this point in time, the data regarding our youth is extremely promising. The disease is becoming more common than originally thought and with each positive test in a mildly symptomatic patient, the mortality rate decreases. We should be careful but not panicked. Prepared but not fully isolated. Informed but not overreactive. 

For more information visit The World Health Organization (WHO) Advice for the public.

 

This article was published on March 11, 2020.

 

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