By: Andrea Dillon
The world is a strange place right now. We are in a time of change and uncertainty. Adults and children alike are struggling to grasp the need to stay inside and learn what this new virus means for us all. We are here to help. I believe that the best way to counteract the fear is through knowledge. We’ve created this COVID-19 primer to give tips for talking to your children about COVID-19, and maybe help you understand it more yourself.
What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is a type of coronavirus. There are lots of different coronaviruses common in people and animals. There are times when a coronavirus is transferred from animal to person and then spread person to person. COVID-19 is one of these rare times. The coronaviruses MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV were examples of this too.
These types of viruses are zoonotic, which means they are transmitted between animals and people. The first instance of MERS, SARS, and COVID-19 is believed to have started in animals and then transferred to humans. There are also some instances of people infecting animals too.
Coronaviruses received their name by their appearance. These viruses have a crown-like look to them. Take a look at some of the coronavirus models we made.
This model is big. We can see it and touch it, but germs are small, too small to see with our naked eyes. We can’t see coronaviruses; that is why we need to take precautions to stay safe. We will address staying safe a little further below. First, let’s look at why COVID-19 is making us sick.
Why does this virus make so many people sick?
There are five main reasons the COVID-19 coronavirus is good at making us sick.
- This version is better at sticking in us. Coronaviruses use something called spike proteins to bind to the membrane of the human cells that they infect. Think velcro. COVID-19, however, has a specific structure that allows it to attach better than other coronaviruses. Imagine extra-sticky velcro; that’s how sticky this virus is.
- Most respiratory viruses infect either the upper or the lower airways. If they infect the upper airways, they spread very easily, but they cause mild illnesses like a runny nose. If they infect the lower airways, they can cause more severe illnesses like pneumonia, but they are also harder to spread. COVID-19 seems to infect both areas, making it easy to spread and more severe.
- This virus is new. Our bodies have had experience with other coronaviruses before. Most of these types of viruses usually cause mild illnesses, such as the common cold, so our body knows how to respond and take care of them without issues. COVID-19 is an entirely different type of coronavirus than we have seen in the past. Because of that, our immune system has no game plan to defeat it.
- It can take a while for symptoms to show after being infected with COVID-19. We call this presymptomatic. Current research shows that it can take anywhere from one to fourteen days before you show signs of illness and, for a period of that time, you may have mild to no symptoms but can still spread and infect others.
- Some people can have COVID-19 and not show symptoms at all. We call this asymptomatic. While these individuals are lucky not to have the issues that come with the virus, they are what we call carriers. Asymptomatic people feel fine and don’t have any warning signs to tell them they are infected and should stay home. Since asymptomatic people do not look or feel sick, they think it is okay to see others and may not be taking the needed precautions to keep from contaminating people and surfaces around them, which allows the virus to get shared unnoticed.
How is COVID-19 spread?
With a new virus, it is hard to say precisely how it is spread because doctors and scientists are still learning more about it every day. The current knowledge per the CDC reports that the virus can be transmitted by:
- Close contact, person-to-person spread by infected air droplets through coughing and sneezing.
- Touch contact may also spread this virus; if the surface you touch is contaminated, and you then touch your eyes, nose, and mouth, it may infect you. Current research says that the virus may stay on different surfaces for varying amounts of time. *These numbers may change with new research.*
- 3 hours in the air
- 4 days on glass
- 3 days on plastic and metal
- 24 hours on paper and cardboard
Do you need more of a visual on how germs can spread? Check out this video by Mythbusters!
How can we stay safe from COVID-19?
So now that we know more about coronaviruses and COVID-19, how can we keep ourselves and our family safe?
Keep Your Distance!
Currently, the best way to stay safe is to stay home and away from others. This is called social distancing. Social distancing means keeping your distance from others to help slow and avoid the spread of the virus. This requires that you stay home and only go out when you have to. It is recommended that only one person go out for essentials. However, if you have to go out, keep a distance of 6 to 10 feet away from others and wear a face mask.
Social distancing is extremely vital for members of the community that are high risk, like grandma and grandpa. So to be on the safe side, forgo the in-person visits right now and make phone calls or video chats instead.
Keep Your Hands Clean!
Washing your hands is another crucial part of staying healthy now and always! Making sure to wash your hands correctly is the key.
Twenty seconds is a vital guideline to how long you should wash your hands. How long are twenty seconds? It is about as long as it takes to sing happy birthday twice.
Do you want other songs to sing? Give some of these a try:
- If You’re Happy and You Know It (wash your hands) – sing it twice
- Twinkle Twinkle
- Do Re Mi
Make it more fun by having the kids help you come up with more songs that might work or write your own!
You can also use hand sanitizers with over 60% alcohol content, but you must rub it onto your hands and let it completely dry.
Don’t Touch Your Face!
Touching your face is a big way that germs and viruses can infect you. It is so easy to touch a contaminated surface and then put your fingers in your mouth, rub your eyes, or your nose. This is why handwashing is necessary.
What can you do if your face itches? Substitute the behavior!
Face touching is something we do without thinking, so practicing a substitute behavior can go a long way. Remember, not touching is best, but this can help lessen the chances of infecting yourself.
- Most people scratch their faces with their fingers, which can be the dirtiest part of your hands. Start using the back of your arm or wrist as these areas may be less exposed than your hands.
- Use a clean tissue or the inside of your shirt to scratch if needed.
- Scratch another part of your body to redirect your brain.
Sneeze And Cough Responsibility!
Sneezing and coughing can spread germs and viruses faster by pushing them out in the air through droplets. You can help decrease this by sneezing or coughing into a tissue, your elbow, or even the inside of your shirt!
Need some help understanding why this is important? Watch this video by Science Insider!
Keep Surfaces Clean!
If you do happen to get sick or if you are bringing in items from outside the house, it is crucial to make sure you keep surfaces clean and virus free. Wash items from outside the house or touched frequently with appropriate cleaners per CDC guidelines.
- Alcohol-based wipes or sprays containing at least 70% alcohol
- Bleach solutions
- Disinfectants approved by the EPA
What Happens If I Get Sick?
If you get sick, don’t panic. It might not be COVID-19 and, even if it is, there is a good chance that it will be mild. Most people get flu-like symptoms like body aches, cough, and fever. Some can have trouble breathing. The important thing to remember is to get plenty of rest, drink lots of fluids, and keep those around you safe by covering your coughs and sneezes and washing your hands frequently. If you do have COVID-19 symptoms, it is best to call the doctor to find out what they recommend and where you can go if you need to be tested. It is important not to go to the doctor or hospital without calling first because you can end up spreading it to others unintentionally or pick it up if you don’t really have it.
What Can I Do To Help?
With all the uncertainty around COVID-19, there are still things you can do to help us all get through this.
- Stay Home! Yep! The best thing you can do to help yourself, your family, and others is to stay home and help slow the spread.
- Virtually or by phone, check-in on your friends and family. Pick up the phone and call your friends and family. It may not seem like much, but during this time staying at home can seem isolating. Talking to others and seeing them over video chat can help lift spirits and make this time more manageable.
- Shop for at-risk family and friends. Don’t make extra trips, but you can contact those at risk and make a list of things they need to have your runner for essential grab those items as well when they go. Then they can do a porch drop to maintain social distancing rules.
- Make face masks! Masks are needed for those at risk, those sick, and people that need to be out for essentials. There is a shortage of masks right now, so if you have the materials, try your hand at sewing some face masks to donate to those in need.
Other Tough Questions
When will life go back to normal?
This is a difficult question, right now we aren’t sure. Doctors and scientists are working hard on creating a vaccine and treatment to help slow and possibly stop this virus. However, this takes time. We will need to have a long period of social distancing to help keep people safe and healthy. While I would love to give a specific date that we can go back to normal, there isn’t a concrete answer. What we can do is take it a week at a time, stay informed, and remember that this won’t last forever.
Can you die from this virus?
Yes, yes, you can. Again, most people will have mild symptoms and children tend to have little to no symptoms that we have seen so far. However, this isn’t a guarantee so the best way to protect yourself and others is to follow the guidelines to stay safe.
Will I have to miss (insert life event)?
Birthday parties, graduations, weddings, concerts…insert the event. Sadly, yes, these types of gatherings only increase the risk that the virus will spread so, for now, these events are canceled. This isn’t forever, though! Start making a list of all the fun things you want to do after this is over!
What happens if we have an emergency?
You need to be careful during this time so that you don’t have an emergency. However, accidents happen. Determine the level of emergency you have and seek help at the appropriate location while doing your best to follow social distancing guidelines. Medical professionals can help guide you with what you need to do.
Can I still go outside?
Maybe. If you live somewhere that you can safely go inside and out without contact with others or without contact with things others might touch often (like handrails, elevator buttons, and doorknobs) then yes. However, if you are living in a building complex or in an area that doesn’t have much space available to practice social distancing it might be best to just stay inside.
Can my pets get COVID-19?
Maybe, this depends on your pet. There have been cases where animals such as cats, dogs, and even tigers have caught the virus from humans. We also know that cats can catch it from other cats too! However, there is a lot unknown and still being researched on whether other animals can get this virus. So far, no pet has been able to spread the virus back to humans.
What if I am worried about my family and friends?
What happens if someone we know dies?
I hope this isn’t something you have to address, but if you do, it will be okay. It is okay to be sad and to grieve. Those are completely normal reactions. However, we must also remember that we have to stay safe. Our loved ones want us to be safe and healthy, so maintaining the guidelines to stay safe, even at this time, is important.
I know this is a difficult time for us all, and these might not answer all the questions your children have. Remember, this is new for us all, so an answer from honestly and knowledge is the best answer possible. We will make it through this together but safely apart.
Do your kids have any other questions on COVID-19 you need help answering? Leave me a comment below or contact me and I will do my best to help you answer.
Need some things to keep you busy? Try these resources!
- Huge List of Amazing Virtual Field Trips
- 50 Fun and Free Stay at Home Activities
- Quick Online Educational Resources
- Science: Don’t Toss It, Regrow It!