Seattle's Child

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Ask the Pediatrician Q&A: Your coronavirus questions answered

Advice on calming kids' fears, keeping to a routine and avoiding playdates and playgrounds (sorry!)


Coronavirus is quickly becoming news in our region, but there’s no need to panic. Thanks for reaching out with your questions so that we can share our best information to keep our families safe as we learn more about this virus and how it’s spreading within our community.

How can we keep our kids from getting coronavirus?

This goes back to the community guidance we’ve all heard of – social distancing. We know that COVID-19 can spread easily by droplets released when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It is important to stay home unless doing essential tasks (pharmacy, grocery, etc.) It is extremely important to stay home when we’re sick. Helping kids remember to cover coughs, wash hands, and avoid face touching is key. These steps will go a long way toward keeping us feeling well.

As parents we can set the tone for our kids by balancing important health messaging (wash our hands) with some fun, too. Since we are washing our hands a million times per day, consider using fun scented or sparkly soaps, sing a song with them while they wash, and give stickers or rewards for frequent hand washing.

My child has a doctor visit scheduled in the next few weeks.  What should I do?

If you can, convert the visit to a virtual or phone visit. It’s safest to stay in your home, plus you’d be making sure in-person visits are saved for those who need them most.

What are some things we should keep in mind in these times when all of our lives are upended?

Kids thrive on routine. Try to make sure they still have a routine, even if it’s a little different. Think about their regular personal hygiene habits, their bedtimes, their diets and their play. The more you can set a weekday schedule and stick to it, the better. Give kids a chance to make some decisions about activities they would like to do and mix in periods of structured activity with free time.

At the same time, make sure you’re taking care of yourself.  Get enough sleep, get outside and keep your body moving, and keep your healthy habits. Make a point of reaching out to those you love to keep your relationships strong even as we keep our physical distance.

My child is very afraid of coronavirus.  What can I do?

Acknowledge their questions and fears – their feelings are perfectly normal. Take a moment to talk to them about what is going on. Provide them with an age-appropriate overview of the situation, emphasizing steps you are taking to keep yourself and your family safe and healthy. Relay information in short brief conversations and find a time each day to check in and ask them what they are hearing and if they have any questions. Checking in with them again the next day allows your child to determine the information they need without becoming overwhelmed. 

It also helps to limit children’s exposure to the news. To a child, it can sound scary and alarming. Be thoughtful about what news and how much they could be hearing.

What about playdates and playgrounds?

Because we’re all doing our best on social distancing, now isn’t a great time for playdates. Going outdoors is fantastic, though, and necessary – head on outside and play. It’s best if they maintain contact only with immediate family members.


ORIGINAL Q&A, March 2:

What are the symptoms of coronavirus, also known as COVID-19? 

The recent coronavirus is a member of the same family of viruses that causes the common cold. Typical symptoms of the virus include fever, difficulty breathing and possible fluid in one or both lungs. Coronavirus can progress to pneumonia in some cases. The majority of information known about the recent coronavirus spread is based on similar influenza-like illnesses that are typically spread person-to-person via respiratory droplets from infected individuals who cough or sneeze, as well as coming in close contact with infected surfaces.

How can you tell the difference between the common cold and the coronavirus? 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is a helpful resource and notes common cold symptoms include sore throat, runny nose, coughing, sneezing, headaches, body aches. 

Symptoms of coronavirus include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure.

If you have any questions about your symptoms, call your doctor or consulting nurse before coming in. They can help assess your symptoms over the phone before you need to come to the office. 

What should a parent do if they suspect they or their child has COVID-19? What should we do first?

The first thing you should do is call your doctor or consulting nurse. They can assess your symptoms and direct the best course of action. For many individuals, coronavirus may be a mild illness that doesn’t require additional treatment. If you are experiencing greater respiratory symptoms, your doctor can advise next steps including evaluation and treatment,

How long before there will be a vaccine available? 

There is currently not any vaccine available. The best thing you can do is follow commonsense practices for cold and flu:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.   

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.   

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.   

  • Stay home if you are sick.   

  • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue away and wash your hands.   

  • Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces you touch.   

How can parents protect their families from contracting the virus? 

Wash, wash, wash your hands! Make sure you wash your hands for at least 20 seconds and help your kids to do the same. It’s helpful to sing a song so your kids know how long 20 seconds really is. Make sure they get the backs of their hands, in between their fingers, and their fingernails, too.

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.   

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.   

  • Stay home if you are sick.   

  • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue away and wash your hands.   

  • Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces you touch.   


And continue to monitor credible sources of information, including for updates on the illness. 

Any suggestions for how to talk about the coronavirus with kids? 

Reminds kids of all ages to wash their hands and to avoid touching their faces. Kids who are older may have more questions and worries about what they hear on the news. Limit exposure to television, and share information about how the virus spreads so kids know how they can take steps to prevent getting sick. Most people who get coronavirus will only have a mild illness.

Here's a great comic to help kids understand coronavirus:

Does hand sanitizer help? 

Washing your hands for at least 20 seconds is the best thing that you can do, but if you’re in a place where that isn’t an option or have recently coughed or sneezed into your hand, hand sanitizer is always a good option until you can get to soap and water. Remember to cough or sneeze into your elbow and disinfect surfaces that you frequently come into contact with. 


Where should I go for the latest information? is a great resource for the most up-to-date information on symptoms, prevention and treatment, and tips on what to do if you or a member of your family is sick.

Locally, Seattle & King County Public Health are a very good resource to monitor the latest updates in our community.


How do respiratory illnesses impact people with asthma or immune system issues? 

While all of us are equally likely to contract (and then spread) the virus, people who are immune compromised may be more likely to experience symptoms or more serious symptoms.  Similarly a patient with asthma may experience respiratory symptoms more acutely. If you feel you or your child is exhibiting symptoms, contact your care provider or consulting nurse hotline.  


What medicines can help if you need to treat this illness at home? 

We recommend contacting your care provider or consulting nurse hotline to get the best recommendations for you or your child.


If you have nonurgent medical appointments, is it better to cancel rather than risk exposure at that hospital or clinic?

Almost all medical centers, including Kaiser Permanente, are functioning as usual and have protections in place to minimize transmission.  If you have particular concerns, please contact your care provider.

See also: Coronavirus tips and wisdom from Seattle physician Dr. Jeff Lee