By Peggy Dodds, M.D., Pediatrician, County of Santa Barbara, Department of Public Health
The spread of COVID-19 has prompted health officials to do whatever is necessary to protect all of us from getting sick. While most people who become infected will have symptoms similar to a cold or the flu, and children seem less affected by the virus than adults, we are all responsible for protecting those at higher risk.
Steps like physical distancing and wearing a mask may feel like an inconvenience, but these actions are the best way right now to protect our family, friends, and neighbors those who may be vulnerable. For children, the changes to routine can be difficult on many levels. Here are five important tips to help families cope with the health orders and safety protocols that protect us all:
- Wear the Mask! It is important that we all wear face masks while in public, except those children under the age of two. A cloth mask that covers the nose and mouth is also required in the State of California when you are in public spaces indoors, or outside where you cannot maintain a six-foot distance from others. For kids, it can be difficult to get them to wear the mask. They may be fearful or complain that a mask is uncomfortable. First, empathize with them, acknowledging their issues. To help them accept wear a mask, try fitting their mask on a favorite stuffed animal, letting them draw a mask on a favorite character, or put your mask on with them and look in the mirror together so they know they are not alone in this.
- Talk to your kids and answer their questions. Children need to be able to express their thoughts and fears and you may be surprised at how many questions they have. Try to reassure them that by encouraging them to follow the safety protocols and help them understand that we are all doing our best to stay safe. Recognize their feelings about missing socializing and encourage a video chat with friends and grandparents. Try to keep household routines consistent so that they feel secure.
- Get Physical. Getting outdoors for some much-needed exercise while physical distancing, is a great way to decrease anxiety. Think about enjoying outdoor games and fun walks around the neighborhood that the family can do together. Nature walks, scavenger hunts, bike rides with proper physical distancing are great ideas for getting physical.
- Hand washing and face touching. It is important to remind your children to wash their hands regularly and not to touch their face. These practices are useful beyond the coronavirus pandemic in helping to reduce colds and flu. You can even make a game out of the face touching rule by encouraging kids to remind one another if they see a family member touching their face.
- Don’t forget immunizations. You may be tempted to skip your children’s doctor appointment because of the pandemic but please do not forgo their immunizations! It is important that your children receive their regular immunizations to stay healthy. Be sure to call ahead to your doctor’s office to learn what special procedures they may have implemented, such as wearing a mask and office entrance protocols, so that everyone can stay healthy.
COVID-19 can spread from person to person even before symptoms start. So, if someone in your family starts to feel even slightly ill, run down, tired, or achy, it's important to stay home and self-isolate. This means limiting contact with others.
If more severe symptoms develop, like a fever, cough or shortness of breath, call your doctor. They will let you know if a COVID-19 test is needed, and what the next steps should be. If it is believed someone in your family has COVID-19, quarantine will likely be recommended. If you are concerned that someone in your family may be at higher risk, you can contact your doctor to discuss what preventative measures may be appropriate for you.
For more information about how you can prevent getting and spreading the coronavirus and what steps the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department is taking to protect our communities, please visit: https://publichealthsbc.org/.
Peggy Dodds, M.D. is a pediatrician with the Department of Public Health for the County of Santa Barbara. She is certified with the American Board of Pediatrics and a Fellow of the Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Dodds has a Masters in Counseling Psychology and a MFT license. She has a special interest in parent education and behavior issues.