COVID-19 Q&A: Safety for Kids
Find questions and answers on keeping toys and common items safe from the virus, precautions to take when a family member goes into public and keeping children from spreading the virus.
Which precautions actually help protect you from COVID-19, and which are not making a difference?
The best way to prevent getting sick from the virus is to avoid being exposed to someone who has COVID-19. Precautions that actually help protect you include
- Wash your hands or using hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol if soap and water are not readily available
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands
- Avoid close contact
- Cover your mouth and nose with a mask when out in public
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily.
- Monitor your health. Be alert for symptoms. If you are having concerning symptoms, call your healthcare provider.
Is it worth changing your clothes from the grocery store, or is hand washing sufficient?
The average person returning from the grocery store does not have to wash their clothes more often than usual. For the average person who is not a healthcare worker returning from work or a person caring for someone with the virus, hand washing should be sufficient.
What precautions do we need to take if we go to the beach this summer?
It is important to maintain social distancing at the beach. Keep at least 6 feet away from people who are not part of your household. The virus is spread primarily through close contact with people who are infected. They may not show any symptoms.
Have a face covering available to put on at any moment when social distancing cannot be maintained. Don't forget to wash hands before eating.
My spouse works outside the home. What precautions should we take when he comes home each night?
What precautions should he take while he's out in the "wild"? Any time spent in public settings right now, whether due to out-of-the-home work by essential employees or the brief and socially-distanced trips to the grocery store, can represent risk of exposures to this virus.
As such, anyone re-entering home should practice good hand-hygiene, and consider changing clothing and taking off shoes right away. When out, it is important to avoid touching your face, and wash hands with soap and water, or hand sanitizer, as often as possible, and especially before eating.
Social distancing should be practiced at all times including while reporting for essential duties outside the home as well.
How long does the virus live on phones, toys, tablets, doorknobs, etc.?
It can live on inanimate objects a long time—certainly hours and maybe even more than a day. We should be in the habit of cleaning and disinfecting these and other "high touch surfaces" frequently, especially after they have been touched by one person and then will be touched by another.
Is it safe to go to playgrounds now that they are open?
Kids need outdoor time. It is important to play outdoors while staying at a safe distance from others. Playgrounds used by many are difficult to keep clean so think parks, not playgrounds. Bring your own toys, balls and bikes and clean them after each visit to the park to minimize the spread of germs. Also make sure your children avoid touching their face, and everyone should wash their hands when they leave.
How are parents supposed to manage neighborhood gatherings when masks come off, snacks are shared and no one social distances themselves? Kids are desperate for interaction!
We know that kids are sociable, but currently, we should still make an effort to maintain social distancing. It is one of the best tools we have against the virus.
If a playdate is a must, outdoors are preferable. It is key to stress maintaining social distancing, wear face covering if distance cannot be maintained, not sharing foods or drinks, and staying home if sick. Offer individually packaged foods and drinks rather than shared items, and don't forget to use hand sanitizer first.
How do you keep younger kids to keep their mask on?
In general, masks are not recommended for children under 2 years of age. For older kids, you should help your kids get used to wearing masks. Allow your children to practice wearing their masks before they need to wear them outside of the home. Teach them how to put them on and take them off.
Encourage kids to decorate their mask or chose one on their own. It gives them a sense of ownership. A personal touch can help make it fun. You can introduce a sense of play. Kids can pretend to be a healthcare provider. You can also have their stuffed animals wear a mask as well.
How do we protect our children under 2 who cannot wear masks and wear gloves?
The best solution is to keep them at home most of the time, but we know that is not possible. Children under 2 should not wear a mask because they have smaller airways so breathing through a mask can be hard, and a mask increases the risk of suffocation.
To protect children under 2, limit exposure, and avoid unnecessary public contact. If going out is essential, cover the infant carrier with a light blanket, which helps protect the baby but still gives him or her the ability to breathe. Do not leave the blanket on the carrier in the car or at a time when a baby and carrier are not in direct view.
Keep hands clean. Clean frequently touched surfaces. Teach older children to avoid touching their faces. If a parent cannot leave the young child at home, keep the outing short and always follow social distancing rules.
If there are multiple kids in the household, how to avoid them giving the virus to each other?
It is extremely challenging to prevent spread with close contacts, which is why schools are closed and we are being asked for kids to keep their distance. Within a home, if there is an unused room, the infected individual could consider moving into that space, but we know this is not practical for most families.
Frequent hand-washing, avoiding sharing of food and kissing/hugging those who are ill are important first steps to avoid spread. We should also be teaching kids to sneeze and cough into a tissue or into their elbow and wash their hands right after to avoid spreading germs.
Are kids safe around other people?
Right now, the safest practice is for everyone to stay distanced from others who live outside their home. This is intended to slow down the spread of this virus, and avoid infecting those who are at highest risk.
The best approach is to consider that, even if you or your child is not currently symptomatic, there is a chance of being an asymptomatic carrier, meaning you have been exposed and can pass it to others without ever feeling sick yourself. We are therefore recommending that everyone consider this risk and aim to avoid other people until this virus is better controlled.
How do we avoid infection once we're allowed to leave the house?
For the foreseeable future, we all need to be extra careful about hand-washing, covering our mouths with our elbows when we sneeze or cough, and aiming to avoid touching our face as much as possible. We know this is hard to teach kids, so reinforcing these skills during the days while they are out of school and home might be helpful for them to practice in the meantime.
Answers provided by:
- Mutiat Onigbanjo, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at University of Maryland School of Medicine and pediatrician at Pediatrics at Midtown
- James Campbell, MD, professor of pediatrics at University of Maryland School of Medicine and pediatric infectious disease expert
- Deborah Badawi, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at University of Maryland School of Medicine and pediatric developmental and behavioral expert
- Rebecca Carter, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at University of Maryland School of Medicine and pediatrician at Pediatrics at Midtown
- Margaret Pyle, MD, clinical assistant professor assistant professor of pediatrics at University of Maryland School of Medicine and pediatrician at Pediatrics at Midtown