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How is COVID-19 affecting children?

In a new report from JAMA Pediatrics, experts describe how the coronavirus is affecting children. Study co-authors Dr. Lindsay A. Thompson and Dr. Sonja A. Rasmussen also explain what parents can do to help keep their children safe as the pandemic persists.

While most children with COVID-19 have only mild symptoms or even no symptoms at all, others are becoming severely ill. There is a collection of evidence which shows that certain underlying conditions increase the risk for severe COVID-19 among children. These conditions include obesity, asthma, neurologic disorders, heart disease, and being immunocompromised, among others.

“As children get older, their risk of getting sick enough to be hospitalized is higher, although newborns and young infants are also at increased risk,” wrote the researchers.

“Risk of death in children is far lower than in adults, but some children have died of COVID-19. Children who are Hispanic, Black, or American Indian or Alaska native are at higher risk for severe disease and death.”

“Children can get COVID-19 from family members and other close contacts such as friends and teachers at school and from sports activities.” 

In some rare cases, kids who have been infected with COVID-19 have developed a condition called multisystem inflammatory syndrome. “Children may develop this syndrome about 2 to 4 weeks after infection, and some of these children had no symptoms of COVID-19,” explained the study authors.

“These children require hospitalization and many need complex supportive therapies to help respond to what seems to be the body’s strong response to being infected with the virus. Some children with this condition have died.”

According to the researchers, the most important way to prevent COVID-19 is to avoid getting infected. 

“All family members should follow important recommendations. First, practice the 3 W’s: (1) watch your distance, keeping at least 6-ft distance between you and others; (2) wear a cloth mask when out of your house; and (3) wash your hands often with soap and water for more than 20 seconds, avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.”

“Second, avoid the 3 C’s: (1) closed spaces with poor ventilation; (2) crowded places with many people nearby; and (3) close-contact settings, such as close-range conversations.”

The experts emphasized that getting flu shots for children older than 6 months is more important than ever this year. In addition, they said parents must find ways to balance their children’s needs to stay safe with their needs to learn and socialize with peers. 

“Parents should consult their school system and health department for the best information on local spread of COVID-19, area rules and recommendations, and school procedures. We want to keep children safe and learning while minimizing risks to themselves, their friends, family members, including grandparents, and other vulnerable members of society.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends talking with children about the COVID-19 outbreak to help minimize their stress.

“Reassure your child that they are safe. Let them know it is okay if they feel upset. Share with them how you deal with your own stress so that they can learn from you how to cope with stress.”

The CDC advises parents to limit their family’s exposure to news coverage of the event, including social media. “Children may misinterpret what they hear and can be frightened about something they do not understand.”

The experts also recommend keeping up with regular routines, sleeping and eating well, and spending time with your child in meaningful activities like exercising, reading together, and playing board games.

The study is published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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