Family health

What parents need to know as the coronavirus spreads

Canadians are now seeing coronavirus spread within our own communities. Here's what this means for you and your family.

This story was originally published on Feb 6, 2020 and most recently updated on March 12, 2020. 

On March 11, the WHO declared the coronavirus a pandemic, and here in Canada, the virus is starting to spread locally in some of our communities. It’s enough to make anyone panic, but as parents know, freaking out doesn’t get us very far. Here’s what you need to know to keep this in perspective.

What even is a pandemic?

“People hear the term pandemic and it stokes fear,” says Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease physician at Toronto General Hospital [Editor’s note: The interview with Isaac Bogoch took place on February 26]. “But a pandemic just refers to the global spread of an infection.” He says we can rest assured that for the most part, people who get COVID-19 will do fine. “Most people have a mild course of infection,” he explains.

So, I shouldn’t be worried?

Rather than worried, we should be prepared, says Bogoch. He recommends making sure you and your family are in optimal health, by checking if your vaccinations are up to date and filling prescriptions for any chronic medical conditions you or your family have. After that, it’s a matter of good hand hygiene, staying home from work or school if you’re sick, and coughing into your sleeve, to help prevent the spread of illness.

You should also be prepared for the possibility that you and your family will be home sick for a period of time. The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends slowly stocking up on food and supplies, like dried pasta and sauce, pet food and diapers, to have on hand during an illness.

How are kids affected by coronavirus?

The good news is, kids don’t seem to be severely affected by coronavirus. However, the virus does appear to affect the elderly, and those with underlying medical conditions, more severely. Therefore, if your kid is sick, regardless of their symptoms, you may want to keep them away from their grandparents.

Read more: What to expect of your kid gets coronavirus

I’m pregnant, what do I need to know?

According to the data that’s available from China, pregnant women do not seem to be more severely affected by the coronavirus compared to other adults. However, there are some extra precautions that pregnant women should keep in mind. Here’s our full story on what to expect if you get coronavirus during pregnancy.

We have travel plans coming up. Should we change them? 

Currently, the Canadian government is recommending Canadians avoid all travel to Hubei province in China and to avoid all non-essential travel to other provinces in China, as well as Iran and Northern Italy. For some other countries with higher numbers of infection, like Japan and South Korea, the Canadian government says Canadians should “practice special precautions,” like postponing travel if you are older or have an underlying medical condition.

However, it’s important to remember these are moving targets, says Bogoch. It’s a good idea to stay up-to-date with Canadian travel advisories.  He also notes that there can be travel advisories and restrictions that come from the country you are travelling to, or even a country you are travelling through, that could affect your plans. Here’s a full look at everything you should consider when it comes to travel.

My kids have noticed people wearing masks. What should I tell them, without freaking them out?

Many people wear a mask to avoid passing an illness on to others. So you might start with that explanation, suggests Alyson Schafer, a family counsellor and author of several parenting books. “You could say they might have a cold and they’re wanting to be responsible, to make sure they don’t pass it on to anyone else.” It’s a positive message for kids, and a good segue way into other strategies for preventing germ sharing, like coughing into your elbow and washing your hands frequently. If you have an older kid who’s more curious, you could add that healthy people might also wear a mask to protect themselves from bacteria or viruses. If you say “they just want to be extra cautious,” that sends the message that masks are not a requirement, without stigmatizing the mask wearer.

My kid said that Chinese people are spreading this virus. How do I respond?

It’s important to make it clear that while this virus was discovered in China, other viruses emerge out of other places (like North America, in the case of H1N1). To show the dangers of associating a virus with an ethnicity, Schafer recommends encouraging your child to put themselves in the shoes of someone who’s stereotyped. “Imagine you’re being picked on and called names because of a disease that originated in a country your grandparents were born in,” for example. Draw attention to how silly it is to stereotype and how it feels to be stereotyped, says Schafer. This could be a good opportunity to call out other prejudices that your child or your child’s peers might face.

In addition, “walk the talk,” says Schafer. Many Chinese Canadian businesses were hit hard during SARS, as people erroneously worried they were at risk of getting the virus at stores or restaurants frequented by Asian people. So now’s a great time to go out as a family to your favourite Chinese restaurant, she suggests, or any Chinese-owned business, for that matter.

My kids are Chinese Canadian and I worry this virus is making them see their ancestral home negatively. What should I do?

There are so many positives to focus on. There are the Chinese health workers who are putting in long hours to care for the sick and to prevent the spread of the disease to others. There are volunteers delivering groceries to people who can’t get to stores because public transit has been shut down. There are the incredible efforts of all the people who worked day and night to build a hospital in only 10 days. Look past the panic-inducing stories, and you’ll find way more everyday stories of heroism and kindness.

Read more:
4 ways to get the flu virus out of your house
How serious is the flu in kids, really?