Adhering to the official advice on how to protect yourself from coronavirus, and what to do if you have it, is enough to get your head around on its own. For those of us with children living at home, it becomes a more complicated business still, and one that raises multiple questions. Isolating yourself from your children or with your children, getting them to understand the importance of hand hygiene, and what to do if one family member in a household goes down with the virus – all are among the problems parents will encounter.
Here, we answer a number of the queries you might have about keeping your family safe – and, potentially, keeping others safe from your family.
Can children get coronavirus?
In short: yes. People of all ages can catch coronavirus. However, older people, and those with pre-existing medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease are more likely to become severely ill with the disease.
Most confirmed cases of Covid-19 reported in China have occurred in adults, but infections in children have been reported too, including in very young children.
Limited reports from the country suggest children with the virus have largely presented with only mild symptoms. Complications such as acute respiratory distress syndrome and septic shock have been reported but appear to be uncommon.
What does it mean if I have to self-isolate?
You should stay indoors and avoid contact with other people for 14 days. Obviously, that might be problematic if you are caring for young children. The government has yet to issue specific advice for parents on this issue, but official guidelines advise those in self-isolation to:
try and avoid being in the same room as other people at the same time;
clean toilets and bathrooms regularly;
think about a bathroom rota if a separate bathroom is not available, with the isolated person using the facilities last, before thoroughly cleaning the bathroom themselves
use separate towels from anyone else in the household
wash crockery and utensils thoroughly with soap and water; dishwashers may be used to clean crockery and cutlery
Read More: The dos and don’ts of coronavirus self-isolation
How can I survive two weeks of staying indoors with the children if they have to be isolated?
Again, no official guidance on this is yet available (and perhaps it won’t be, though we’d like to hear if we may visit public parks at quiet times). It’s probably fair to assume that if you have a garden or access to an unpopulated open space, you would do well to make sure your children (and you) spend some time in it each day, provided they are not unwell.
Schools are likely to put in place provisions for home-learning if it becomes necessary. If your child’s school is open but your child is at home in quarantine, it would be worth contacting the school (via phone or email rather than in person) to ask if they can send work home for your child to do.
For very young children, we suggest you plan a variety of home-based activities each day to prevent you all from going crazy! These could include reading, music, games, arts and crafts and baking. You could even devise a project to work on at home together over the fortnight, to keep your child’s mind occupied with something other than the fact they’re stuck indoors.
Keep in touch with friends and relatives using FaceTime or Skype. And, for the sake of everyone’s sanity, maybe think about relaxing those well-intended but slightly draconian TV rules you normally enforce…
How can I lower the risk that children pose of spreading or catching the virus?
The Telegraph’s global health security team says:
Explain to your children how germs spread and the importance of good hand and face hygiene
Keep household surfaces clean, especially kitchens, bathrooms, door handles and light switches
Use clean or disposable cloths to wipe surfaces so you don’t transfer germs from one surface to another
Give everyone their own towel and make sure they know not to share toothbrushes, etc
Keep your home dry and airy (bugs thrive in musty environments)
Should I be stockpiling Calpol?
Have some in the house, in case you need to self-isolate and can’t buy it easily. But the government is asking people not to stockpile. (See below.)
Should I be stockpiling nappies?
People who self-isolate during the coronavirus outbreak will have the food and essentials they need, Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, has said, although supermarkets have cast doubt on whether he was jumping the gun. He has urged the public not to stockpile, stressing that there is “absolutely no need”.
“The very, very strong advice from the scientists, from the medics, is that people should not go buying more than they need,” added Hancock.
How can I make my kids wash their hands regularly and generally be more hygienic?
Young children aren’t known for fastidiously washing hands, while those with teenagers will be well aware that hygiene isn’t always their strong suit.
Naturally we don’t want to scare our children into getting better at this, though at the same time parenting experts say we shouldn’t shy away from talking to them about the virus. Even very young children will be picking up on conversations about it, and attempts to avoid the issue or withhold information will harm their understanding in the long run, according to Dr Zoi Nikiforidou, a senior lecturer in Early Childhood Studies at Liverpool Hope University.
“Help your child put some distance between them and the threat by giving information about how coronavirus is spread and what we can do to help minimise the risk such as using loads of lovely bubbles when washing our hands,” Angharad Rudkin, clinical psychologist and consultant on the parenting book What’s My Child Thinking?, has advised.
You can make it fun for your child by agreeing on a song to sing while washing – ideally lasting about 20 seconds – so they know the importance of being thorough. (Singing Happy Birthday twice has been suggested as one option.)
Should we stop our weekly swimming classes?
Countries across Asia have shut swimming pools and other enclosed public spaces in an attempt to halt the spread of the virus, which is transmitted when people are in close physical contact. But the chlorine used to keep swimming pool water clean helps stop infections, so there is little evidence that taking your child swimming would be riskier than taking them to any other public space.
What should I do if there’s a confirmed case at my child’s school or nursery?
Official advice to headteachers so far has been not to close schools but to isolate individual pupils or teachers suspected to have contracted the virus, before calling Public Health England. However, some schools have opted to close over specific coronavirus fears.
If there is a confirmed case at your child’s school or nursery, staff will let parents know what course of action is being taken and whether the school is remaining open.
Should you stop taking your kids to see grandparents even if everyone’s healthy?
French citizens are now being urged to avoid visiting their relatives in retirement homes to prevent exposing them to possible coronavirus infection. In Britain, experts are not advising this currently. Professor Chris Witty, the UK’s chief medical officer, has said elderly people will be urged to avoid crowded areas or stay at home entirely if coronavirus becomes more widespread. He stressed that pensioners should not be advised to isolate themselves at the moment, but suggested this would change as the virus takes a greater grip.
“One of the bits of advice that we will give is for people who are older or who have pre-existing health conditions to have some degree of isolation from more public environments,” he said. “I think it is more likely that we will make some advice for people who are older citizens and people with pre-existing health conditions to avoid crowded areas.”
Do you need to take extra precautions if you’re pregnant?
The Royal College of Midwives says this: “This is a very new virus. We are just beginning to learn about it and there is very little research about it. For most people, the impact of the virus is relatively mild, similar to flu. Current research, published in The Lancet, found that there is no evidence that Covid-19 causes serious problems in young babies or that it can pass to your developing baby while you are pregnant.
“If you are pregnant you are more vulnerable to getting infections than a woman who is not pregnant. How the virus will affect you is not yet very clear. If you are unwell you should contact 111 for advice and the maternity unit looking after your pregnancy.”
Can the virus be transmitted through breastfeeding?
The Telegraph’s science editor Sarah Knapton, it is still unclear whether coronavirus can be transmitted in breast milk but similar diseases, such as Sars, have never been passed on this way. The current recommendation is to continue breastfeeding as it provides protection against many illnesses.
Women who have been diagnosed are advised to take extra care in washing, and consider expressing their milk rather than feeding themselves.