Coronavirus: what you need to know
Please note: this article is based on the information available when it was published on Friday 13th March 2020
COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, has been all over the news recently. On Thursday 12th March, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared a ‘pandemic’ – which means that the disease is now affecting multiple countries.
Understandably, many people – including families – are worried. And because the situation is changing every day, it can be difficult to find reliable information or advice.
However, whether we’re parents, teachers or professionals, there are lots of things we can all do to learn the facts, manage the risks and help children to do the same.
How does the coronavirus spread?
As this strain of coronavirus is still quite new, scientists aren’t aware of all the different ways it could spread.
But similar viruses pass from person to person through coughing – so the NHS suggests avoiding contact with people who appear unwell, and coughing into our elbows rather than our hands.
What can I do to avoid getting ill?
Hand hygiene is the most effective way to reduce the risk of infection, according to the NHS. Try to wash your hands regularly – and if you’re a parent or you work with children, encourage them to do the same.
When washing your hands, it’s best to use soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. To mark 20 seconds, some people have recommended singing the chorus to Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’ or running through the happy birthday song twice – but it’s totally up to you! It might be fun to come up with your own tune or technique as a family or class.
It’s also vital that everyone – particularly kids, mucky things that they are – washes their hands in the correct way. There’s a great video on the NHS website that takes you through the various steps.
Antibacterial hand sanitisers are not as effective as soap or normal hand wash, but better than nothing if you’re on the move. And if you realise you haven’t washed your hands in a while, try not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth.
How can I keep my devices clean?
We don’t yet know enough about the new coronavirus to be sure how long it survives on hard surfaces such as phones, tablets and laptops, but based on similar viruses it is thought that it could hang around for several days.
Keeping your devices clean is therefore a very good idea – and given how often children touch screens with sticky fingers, it’s probably a hygienic thing to do anyway!
Fortunately, it’s very easy to clean a smartphone or tablet with soap, water and microfibre cloths. You don’t need fancy products or chemicals – in fact, these can damage your device.
The BBC has shared a helpful video in which Dr Lena Ciric – a microbiologist from University College London – explains how to do it safely. Apple has also offered advice for the best ways to clean their products. It might sound obvious, but make sure you unplug the device, turn it off and remove the case before you start.
As a general rule, it’s probably a good idea to avoid using other people’s devices, too – especially the touchscreens and keyboards.
What should I do if I notice symptoms?
If you develop a fever or a new, persistent cough, the NHS currently recommends that you stay at home and avoid contact with people for seven days.
There isn’t a vaccine for COVID-19 yet and antibiotics have no effect on viruses. The only treatments available will relieve symptoms while your body recovers.
If the symptoms are becoming overwhelming, do not go to your local GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital – instead use the NHS’s online coronavirus service for advice about what to do.
How do I talk to my child about the coronavirus?
Your child has probably heard about the virus by now and might have many questions about it. Understandably, you want to put their mind at ease but without downplaying the severity of the situation.
Begin with talking them through the facts and reassure them that although it’s important that we do what we can to minimise spreading, there’s no need to panic. Children are not in the at-risk category and, as long as they wash their hands regularly and are mindful of how the illness spreads, they’ll most likely be fine.
They might have seen distressing news reports or posts on social media about the virus which might not paint an accurate picture of the situation. Get a sense of how worried they are by asking a general question about whether they have seen anything online that upset or worried them.
Find out more about how to talk to your child about difficult subjects.
Where can I get reliable information about the coronavirus?
Many of the headlines about COVID-19 can be confusing or distressing – especially for young children.
What’s more, it can be difficult to distinguish truth from misinformation. The tech platforms are making a big effort to take down false stories about coronavirus – but they can't control private messaging. So it's still possible for children to have access to information that may worry them, but that simply isn't true.
Encourage them to think critically about what they see online – many people are worried and might share things that can be misleading or designed to get a lot of attention.
Try to seek out official sources such as the NHS or Public Health England if you have questions about the virus.
How can I entertain my child at home?
With schools in many countries already closed, and more likely to follow suit in the next few weeks, plenty of parents face the tricky prospect of having to entertain bored children for an extended period.
But don’t panic! We’ve compiled a list of 10 ways to safely entertain your kids at home, featuring Parent Zone-approved online activities plus a few offline suggestions that will never go out of fashion.