It appears COVID-19 may have finally hit your household: Your child is sick and has symptoms of the coronavirus. This can be scary for parents, but the good news is the majority of children with COVID-19 are able to manage symptoms and recover at home. It still makes for a stressful time with many questions for parents and families. Juan Dumois, M.D., infectious diseases specialist at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, walks families through five steps of getting through each of the stages: from testing to quarantining and treating symptoms to recovery.
Step 1: Contact the Pediatrician About COVID-19 Testing
If your child is symptomatic, contact your pediatrician to determine if they should be seen virtually, in-person and/or should receive a COVID-19 test. Always keep your child at home if they are unwell to prevent the spread of illness. Common symptoms of COVID-19 include:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
Call your pediatrician or seek emergency care if your child develops the follow symptoms:
- Difficult or labored breathing
- Signs of dehydration such as infrequent urination or inability to drink enough fluids
- Unusual sleepiness, difficulty waking-up or confusion
If your pediatrician recommends a COVID-19 test, see if they offer testing at their office. Pinellas County and Hillsborough County also have free testing sites. PCR-based tests are more reliable than antigen-based tests (and may be the preferred test for some schools).
Step 2: Quarantine
If your child attends school in person, alert the school and anyone else he or she has been around recently that your child has tested positive for COVID-19. Your child should stay under isolation from others for 10 days following the onset of symptoms and until they are fever-free for at least 24 hours. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all live-in family members should also quarantine for the 14 days after the child develops symptoms or tests positive, as infection could arise anytime during this period. It is also advisable that family members get tested five to seven days after exposure to the child who tested positive if the family members are asymptomatic, or as soon as they show signs of any symptoms.
Parents should also look out for an inflammatory condition called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) that can occur two to six weeks after COVID-19 infection in children. If your child develops persistent fevers, especially if accompanied by rash, abdominal pain, vomiting or diarrhea, call your pediatrician for guidance.
Step 3: Treat and Help Relieve Symptoms
It’s important that your child stays hydrated. Offer plenty of liquids and encourage rest. Talk to your pediatrician about specific treatment plans. They may suggest that acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be used as needed to help relieve aches, pains and fevers.
Step 4: Protect All of the Family
If other household members do not have COVID-19, they should isolate from the ill family member and take the below actions:
- You and your child (if over 2 years old) should wear a mask whenever you are caring for them in close proximity.
- For children in diapers, caregivers should consider wearing gloves and must wash their hands after diaper changes. The virus is found in the stool.
- It is best practice for your child to stay in one room and use a separate bathroom away from other family members, if possible.
- All family members should wash their hands frequently:
- Use soap and water, singing the Happy Birthday song twice before stopping.
- Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
- Avoid sharing household items and wash them thoroughly after your sick child uses them.
- Sanitize all high-touch surfaces with a cleaning spray or wipe frequently throughout the day.
Step 5: Prevent Future Infections and the Spread of COVID-19
Although most children with COVID-19 have mild illness, many require treatment in a hospital and some may develop long-term symptoms (“long COVID”) that can last for weeks or months. The best protection against COVID-19 is to get your child vaccinated if they are 12 or older. The vaccine is safe and protects against the potential complications and harm from COVID-19 infection. Vaccine sites are located across Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. Continue to wear a mask while in public or at school and maintain physical distancing. Remember that no one strategy to prevent people from getting COVID is perfect. However, layering the strategies — vaccines plus masks — gives a high level of protection.
For more tips and information about COVID-19, visit Johns Hopkins All Children’s COVID-19 resource center.