What to do if parents test COVID-19 positive and have a child in their care

While COVID-19 is not usually severe in children, especially below the age of 10 years, you may still have concerns about how to manage the situation.
Woman wearing a red saree and mask working on laptop
Woman wearing a red saree and mask working on laptop
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With COVID-19 cases on the rise across the country, many parents are worried about what to do if one of them or both test positive and they have a child to take care of. In several states, hospitals are full and patients are being advised to home quarantine if they are not critical.

While COVID-19 is not usually severe in children, especially below the age of 10 years, you may still have concerns about how to manage the situation. Here are some guidelines you can follow:

Preparing for hospitalisation:

1. Identify a caregiver for your child beforehand: If you are a single parent or both you and your spouse require hospitalisation but the child does not have the virus, there should be a responsible adult in whose care the child can be entrusted. This can be a family member, neighbour or professional caregiver. Speak to the person beforehand about what needs to be done in the emergency situation and finalise the details.

2. Prepare your child mentally: Keep your child informed about the plan without sounding alarmist. Such a situation is bound to be harrowing for them too and a conversation about the possibility of it happening can help them manage their anxiety better. Speak in a calm and reassuring way, explaining the process step by step. Reiterate that the recovery rate for COVID-19 is high.

3. Speak to Residents Welfare Association: Many RWAs have come up with their own plans on how to contain the coronavirus and what to do if one of them tests positive. Look for solutions together on how to manage the situation with children whose parents have tested positive. If there are quite a few children requiring care, the RWA can perhaps use an empty apartment in the building for a professional caregiver to take care of them. The RWA can also monitor professional caregivers in individual homes, to make sure that the child is being taken care of well.

According to the guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a child who was in contact with a COVID-19 patient should be quarantined for at least 14 days to ensure that they have not caught the infection. They should also be monitored for any symptoms.

Preparing for home quarantine

1. Decide on a home quarantine plan: If you don't require hospitalisation, you can quarantine at home. This means that you isolate yourself at home without passing on the virus to others. Ideally, you will need a room with a toilet and bathroom solely for your use. This will ensure that your contact with others is minimal. If you have to share facilities and one parent is positive but the other is not, consider going to a COVID care centre.

2. Minimise risk: According to the CDC, everyone at home who is above the age of 2 years, is able to remove the mask by themselves and does not have breathing issues, should be masked at all times if there is a COVID-19 patient at home. Surfaces should be disinfected frequently. A distance of at least six feet should be maintained between you and your child. Any item you give the child should be disinfected, except food.

3. Figure out communication: If you have COVID-19, you will not be able to hug your child or touch them in any way without putting them at risk. Children, especially younger ones, may find this very difficult. Even if you are sharing the same space, you can consider coming up with creative and fun ways to communicate, just to liven up the atmosphere. Perhaps you can speak over phone (with your child using one that you don't use), make video calls or send each other emails if you have devices that are not shared. Get a family member or friend to speak to them regularly over the phone.

4. Be kind to yourself: Remember that you are unwell and need rest. Don't take on more than you can chew. Keep housework to the bare minimum. Reach out to support groups or online therapy if you feel you need to talk to someone about your situation. You can also read about how other parents have managed such situations to get ideas and stay calm.

5. Monitor symptoms: Monitor your symptoms as well as the child's closely. If your child is old enough to take temperature readings, teach them how to do it correctly. The CDC recommends that temperature is checked twice a day. Also inform the child on what other symptoms they should watch out for, whether that's coughing or shortness of breath. Keep a list of emergency contacts, including your healthcare provider and ambulance numbers, in an accessible place and tell your child about it too.

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