Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): What parents should know
How to protect yourself and your children
What is a ‘novel’ coronavirus?
A novel coronavirus (CoV) is a new strain of coronavirus.
The disease caused by the novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China, has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) – ‘CO’ stands for corona, ‘VI’ for virus, and ‘D’ for disease. Formerly, this disease was referred to as ‘2019 novel coronavirus’ or ‘2019-nCoV.’
The COVID-19 virus is a new virus linked to the same family of viruses as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and some types of common cold.
COVID-19 has been described as a pandemic by the World Health Organization. What does that mean?
Characterizing COVID-19 as a pandemic is not an indication that the virus has become deadlier. Rather, it’s an acknowledgement of the disease’s geographical spread.
UNICEF has been preparing and responding to the epidemic of COVID-19 around the world, knowing that the virus could spread to children and families in any country or community. UNICEF will continue working with governments and our partners to stop transmission of the virus, and to keep children and their families safe.
There’s a lot of information online. What should I do?
There are a lot of myths and misinformation about coronavirus being shared online – including on how COVID-19 spreads, how to stay safe, and what to do if you’re worried about having contracted the virus.
So, it’s important to be careful where you look for information and advice. This explainer contains information and recommendations on how to reduce the risk of infection, whether you should take your child out of school, whether it’s safe for women to breastfeed, and precautions to take when traveling. UNICEF has also launched a portal where you can find more information and guidance about COVID-19. In addition, the WHO has a useful section addressing some of the most frequently asked questions.
It’s also advisable to keep up to date on travel, education and other guidance provided by your national or local authorities for the latest recommendations and news.
How does the COVID-19 virus spread?
The virus is transmitted through direct contact with respiratory droplets of an infected person (generated through coughing and sneezing), and touching surfaces contaminated with the virus. The COVID-19 virus may survive on surfaces for a few hours to several days, but simple disinfectants can kill it. Studies to date suggest that the virus that causes COVID-19 is mainly transmitted through contact with respiratory droplets, rather than through the air.
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
Symptoms can include fever, cough and shortness of breath. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia or breathing difficulties. More rarely, the disease can be fatal.
These symptoms are similar to the flu (influenza) or the common cold, which are a lot more common than COVID-19. This is why testing is required to confirm if someone has COVID-19. It’s important to remember that key prevention measures are the same – frequent hand washing, and respiratory hygiene (cover your cough or sneeze with a flexed elbow or tissue, then throw away the tissue into a closed bin). Also, there is a vaccine for the flu – so remember to keep yourself and your child up to date with vaccinations.
How can I avoid the risk of infection?
Here are four precautions you and your family can take to avoid infection:
What is the best way to wash hands properly?
Step 1: Wet hands with running water
Step 2: Apply enough soap to cover wet hands
Step 3: Scrub all surfaces of the hands – including back of hands, between fingers and under nails – for at least 20 seconds.
Step 4: Rinse thoroughly with running water
Step 5: Dry hands with a clean cloth or single-use towel
Wash your hands often, especially before eating; after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing; and going to the bathroom.
If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water, if hands are visibly dirty.
Should I wear a medical mask?
The use of a medical mask is advised if you have respiratory symptoms (coughing or sneezing) to protect others. If you don’t have any symptoms, then there is no need to wear a mask.
If masks are worn, they must be used and disposed of properly to ensure their effectiveness and to avoid any increased risk of transmitting the virus.
The use of a mask alone is not enough to stop infections and must be combined with frequent hand washing, covering sneezes and coughs, and avoiding close contact with anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms (coughing, sneezing, fever).
Does COVID-19 affect children?
This is a new virus and we do not know enough yet about how it affects children or pregnant women. We know it is possible for people of any age to be infected and transmit the virus, although older people and/or those with pre-existing medical conditions seem more likely to develop serious illness. Children may be disproportionately affected by measures taken to control the outbreak, such as school closures and physical distancing measures. Special attention needs to be paid to prevent and minimize negative consequences for children as much as possible.
What should I do if my child has symptoms of COVID-19?
Seek medical attention, but remember that it’s flu season in the Northern Hemisphere, and symptoms of COVID-19 such as cough or fever can be similar to those of the flu, or the common cold – which are a lot more frequent.
Continue to follow good hand and respiratory hygiene practices like regular handwashing, and keep your child up to date with vaccinations – so that your child is protected against other viruses and bacteria causing diseases.
As with other respiratory infections like the flu, seek care early if you or your child are having symptoms, and try to avoid going to public places (workplace, schools, public transport), to prevent it spreading to others.
What should I do if a family member displays symptoms?
You should seek medical care early if you or your child has a fever, cough or difficulty breathing. Consider calling ahead to tell your health care provider if you have traveled to an area where COVID-19 has been reported, or if you have been in close contact with someone who has traveled from one of these areas and has respiratory symptoms.
Is it safe for a mother to breastfeed if she is infected with coronavirus?
All mothers in affected and at-risk areas who have symptoms of fever, cough or difficulty breathing, should seek medical care early, and follow instructions from a health care provider.
Considering the benefits of breastfeeding and the insignificant role of breastmilk in the transmission of other respiratory viruses, the mother can continue breastfeeding, while applying all the necessary precautions.
For symptomatic mothers well enough to breastfeed, this includes wearing a mask when near a child (including during feeding), washing hands before and after contact with the child (including feeding), and cleaning/disinfecting contaminated surfaces – as should be done in all cases where anyone with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 interacts with others, including children.
If a mother is too ill, she should be encouraged to express milk and give it to the child via a clean cup and/or spoon – all while following the same infection prevention methods.
I’m worried about bullying, discrimination and stigmatization. What’s the best way to talk about what’s happening?
It’s understandable if you’re feeling worried about the coronavirus. But fear and stigma make a difficult situation worse. For example, there are reports emerging from around the world of individuals, particularly of Asian descent, being subject to verbal or even physical abuse.
Public health emergencies are stressful times for everyone affected. It’s important to stay informed and to be kind and supportive to each other. Words matter, and using language that perpetuates existing stereotypes can drive people away from getting tested and taking the actions they need to protect themselves and their communities.
Here are some do’s and don’ts for how to talk about the coronavirus with your children, family and friends:
DO: talk about the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
DON’T: attach locations or ethnicity to the disease. Remember, viruses can’t target people from specific populations, ethnicities, or racial backgrounds.
DO: talk about “people who have COVID-19”, “people who are being treated for COVID-19”, “people who are recovering from COVID-19” or “people who died after contracting COVID-19”.
DON’T: refer to people with the disease as “COVID-19 cases” or “victims”.
DO: talk about people “acquiring” or “contracting” COVID-19.
DON’T: talk about people “transmitting COVID-19” “infecting others” or “spreading the virus” as it implies intentional transmission and assigns blame.
DO: speak accurately about the risk from COVID-19, based on scientific data and latest official health advice.
DON’T: repeat or share unconfirmed rumours, and avoid using hyperbolic language designed to generate fear like “plague”, “apocalypse” etc.
DO: talk positively and emphasise the importance of effective prevention measures, including following our tips on handwashing. For most people this is a disease they can overcome. There are simple steps we can all take to keep ourselves, our loved ones and the most vulnerable safe.
What is UNICEF doing to help?
UNICEF is supporting Pacific Island governments to help communities across the region prepare and respond to the threat faced by the COVID-19 pandemic.
To date, UNICEF working together with the World Health Organization (WHO) has provided more than 170,000 essential medical and laboratory items, as well as other supplies, to support COVID-19 response efforts in the region. This assistance has been delivered to these countries according to their current needs, along with communication materials for governments to use at airport arrivals, in schools and communities, to inform the public about the symptoms of COVID-19, what to do if someone is feeling unwell, and actions to take to prevent the spread of the virus.
Across the Pacific, UNICEF is supporting governments to respond to or prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 through several actions. This includes the provision of medical items to respond to any outbreak of the virus, including N95 respirators, surgical masks, swabs, thermometers, testing kits, gloves and medical gowns. UNICEF also continues to support all countries to help children continue their learning following school closures, while keeping schools safe, with the adaptation of the Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention and Control in Schools for Pacific Island countries.
In addition to providing medical and laboratory supplies to support governments respond in the event of any virus outbreak, UNICEF continues to reach out to communities to share essential information on keeping children safe to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including washing hands, to cough into your elbow, and to not touch your face, especially the eyes, mouth and nose.