The new coronavirus - Questions and answers for parents

COVID-19 has been described as a pandemic by the World Health Organization. What does that mean?

UNICEF
A girl in a red jacket looks through the window outside
CUI

16 March 2020

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 pregnant 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.

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 with who has traveled from one of these areas and has respiratory symptoms.

Should I take my child out of school?

If your child is having symptoms, seek medical care, and follow the instructions from the health care provider. Otherwise, as with other respiratory infections like the flu, keep your child well rested at home while symptomatic, and avoid going to public places, to prevent spread to others.

If your child isn’t displaying any symptoms such as a fever or cough – and unless a public health advisory or other relevant warning or official advice has been issued affecting your child’s school – it’s best to keep your child in class.

Instead of keeping children out of school, teach them good hand and respiratory hygiene practices for school and elsewhere, like frequent handwashing (see below), covering cough or sneeze with a flexed elbow or tissue, then throwing away the tissue into a closed bin, not touching their eyes, mouths or noses if they haven’t properly washed their hands.

What precautions should I take for my family if we travel?

Anyone planning a trip overseas should always check the travel advisory for their destination country for any restrictions on entry, quarantine requirements on entry, or other relevant travel advice.

In addition to taking standard travel precautions, and in order to avoid being quarantined or denied re-entry into your home country, you are also advised to check the latest COVID-19 update on the International Air Transport Association website, which includes a list of countries and restriction measures.

While traveling, all parents should follow standard hygiene measures for themselves and their children: Wash hands frequently or use an alcohol-based sanitizer with at least 60 per cent alcohol, practice good respiratory hygiene (cover your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze and immediately dispose of the used tissue) and avoid close contact with anyone who is coughing or sneezing. In addition, it is recommended that parents always carry a hand sanitizer, pack of disposable tissues, and disinfecting wipes.

Additional recommendations include: Clean your seat, armrest, touchscreen, etc. with a disinfecting wipe once inside an aircraft or other vehicle. Also use a disinfecting wipe to clean key surfaces, doorknobs, remote controls, etc at the hotel or other accommodation where you and your children are staying.

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