Q: COVID-19 is all over the news, but there’s not much being reported about kids. What happens to kids who get COVID-19 — and should I still bring my child in for regular check-ups during this time?
A: You might not be hearing much about COVID-19 in children, but they are getting it. Any age can get COVID-19. Fewer children than adults are showing signs of infection, and it appears they experience milder symptoms than adults do.
Like adults, children with underlying health conditions seem to be more susceptible to severe symptoms. Many children who are exposed are likely asymptomatic and aren’t being tested at this time.
Even though symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to the cold or flu, there are some key differences: Older kids who can describe symptoms may mention or experience difficulty breathing, chest pain, fever and dry cough. There’s usually no sneezing, which is more common with a cold or allergies. Severe body aches, which are more common with influenza, are also not commonly mentioned.
Otherwise, symptoms may look more like the common cold — with only half of symptomatic kids having a fever.
How to react: If you think your child has COVID-19, which may just appear to be a common cold, please keep your kids at home. Kids can spread the virus to adults just like any infectious illness.
In most cases, the symptoms that kids have are mild and can be managed at home with plenty of rest, regular hand washing, covering coughs and separating the sick child from the rest of the family as much as possible.
Kids with symptoms of COVID-19 can leave home once they meet three conditions: Seven days have passed since symptoms first appeared; their cough has improved; and three or more days have passed since their last fever, without a fever-reducing medication.
If you think medical care is needed, call your primary care clinic first before going in. Your pediatrician can give you the next best steps, including if an emergency room visit is needed.
It’s understandable that you’re worried about you and your children going out to places during COVID-19. Preventing COVID-19 through frequent hand-washing is critical to your child’s health and the health of those around them.
It’s also equally important to make sure that the rest of your child’s health isn’t put on hold.
Virtual appointments: Virtual care has seen a rapid expansion during this pandemic — and for good reason.
You can video chat with your child’s doctor from the comfort of your home. The doctors can see, hear and talk with you, just like an in-person appointment.
Virtual care can be an ideal type of visit for mental health and behavioral health care, especially with many kids experiencing emotional challenges during COVID-19. Many — but not all — services offered through virtual care are covered by insurers. However, you should check with your insurance provider to learn about your specific coverage.
In-person care: Health care is an essential service. And in-person, well-child check-ups are still essential for the
growth and development of children. These visits are also an opportunity for you and your doctor to talk about your questions or concerns.
At each visit, your doctor will monitor your child’s physical, developmental, mental and emotional health. (Some clinics might be prioritizing well-child visits for younger kids at this time.)
Regular vaccinations: Staying on track with your child’s immunizations is also critically important, especially during this global event. Vaccinations throughout childhood are critical because they help provide immunity before children are exposed.
Vaccines are tested to ensure that they’re safe and effective for children to receive at the recommended ages and intervals. Prioritizing these immunizations, which primarily occur during well-child checks, may prevent an outbreak in the future of a disease that we have a vaccine for, such as measles, whooping cough, chickenpox or other preventable diseases.
Many of these vaccine-preventable illnesses — which we tend to forget about until we experience community outbreaks — can also be life-threatening or cause great harm, and would be especially difficult to manage during COVID-19.
Pregnant? Find out what expecting moms need to know about COVID-19 — with information from the CDC and Children’s Minnesota — at themotherbabycenter.org.
Dr. Gigi Chawla is a board-certified pediatrician and the chief of general pediatrics at Children’s Minnesota.