For many young families, we're spending so much time doing our best to avoid the spread of the novel coronavirus that we haven't fully prepared ourselves for what we should do if we — or another member of our household — contracts COVID-19.
Sasha Romary, a postpartum doula and sleep consultant for the online resource Cleo, and her husband were both infected and had to simultaneously care for their two children, including their 4-year-old son who also showed mild symptoms in line with the virus.
"It started with a head cold and then onto the fever, chills, headache, and shortness of breath," said Sasha, who noted that she and her husband had some "mild stomach issues" the week before that may have been connected. "The shortness of breath was a real struggle. It felt like I was in extremely high altitude with a dull pain when I tried to breathe in fully."
What You Should Do If You Start to Feel Sick
One of the most shocking aspects of their COVID experience was, Sasha told POPSUGAR, "how difficult it was to reach someone." She said that no one ever called them back to get tested: "We were brushed off as not a priority."
"I was also shocked at how difficult it was to reach someone and how we were brushed off as not a priority."
A low-priority status might be what otherwise healthy parents in their 30s and 40s should expect as hospitals are overwhelmed with more and more intensive cases. Rebekah Wheeler, a registered nurse and certified midwife who is a lead adviser for Cleo, explained that screening tests are, as of now, limited to cases where someone requires hospitalization or where their doctor has ordered a test because of known exposure or other health conditions that make them higher risk for severe symptoms.
Still, she recommended that as soon as families show any symptoms, they "figure out how your pediatric provider and your own primary care provider are handling virtual visits." In fact, even before anyone is sick, she advised working parents check their own company's telemedicine options while they have the time and energy to do so.
Then, Rebekah said, stay put.
"Don't go into the clinic or hospital," she warned. "You'll just risk infecting others, acquiring the infection yourselves if you or your kid didn't have it already, and there's no treatment for mild cases beyond what you can already give at home."
How You Should Care For Kids Showing COVID-19 Symptoms
Parents may never know for certain if their child contracted COVID-19 or just a run-of-the-mill virus. Because most kids have very mild illnesses, they will never get screened.
Still, Rebekah said that parents should take note if their child's symptoms present as a fever or dry cough — without much mucous or phlegm. Still, even if they show those common coronavirus symptoms, they are advised to stay home. The only one that might warrant a doctor's visit is the less typical side effect, shortness of breath.
"Tylenol and fever reducers are key," Rebekah said. "Stick to over-the-counter medications approved by your pediatric provider. Keeping kids hydrated, fed, and rested are also important."
Parents should keep sick kids home for a minimum of 14 days.
How You Should Care For Kids If You Are Showing COVID-19 Symptoms
It's not likely, but if you are sick and your partner or another adult within your home is not symptomatic, it is recommended that you quarantine yourself.
"Separate the sick folks in the household from those who aren't sick," Rebekah said. "If possible, that's a separate room, including a separate bathroom." If there's only one shared bathroom, cleaning surfaces with disinfectant is essential.
If this setup means a parent is isolated from their kids, she suggested doorway visits, maintaining six feet of space, and other "distance games" so they can still feel connected. "Let them see the sick parent and that they're OK," she said. "Let them do virtual visits, too. Watch movies 'together' by syncing up two screens. Play music and sing together."
How You Should Care For Kids If Both Parents Are Showing COVID-19 Symptoms
Unfortunately for Sasha, because both she and her husband were simultaneously sick, they couldn't isolate themselves even if they wanted to.
"Isolating within your home is so challenging, especially with kids," she said. "They cuddle, share germs, put everything in their mouths. Given that we probably were exposed much earlier than when we actually showed symptoms and were unaware, I think it would have been pretty impossible in our case. We have a small apartment, and there would not be a way to isolate one person from the rest of the family."
"Some shifts [with our kids] were only 10 to 15 minutes before we needed to tap out."
So, the parents took shifts caring for their kids. "Some shifts were only 10 to 15 minutes before we needed to tap out," Sasha said. After awhile, they were able to extend it to an hour or two.
Rebekah concurred that's the best many families in similar situations can do, and that if all adults in a household are sick, it's highly unlikely that the kids haven't been exposed. Still, it's impossible to predict how families will respond to COVID-19.
"The severity of symptoms varies tremendously, even within a family, often leaving one parent flat out on their back and the other pretty well functioning," she said, adding that parents should "use whatever energy and resources you have to get through it" while still doing their best to "wash hands before touching their kids, wipe down surfaces, and all lay low together."
Of course, she made clear that anyone with preexisting conditions should be carefully considered: "If you have a child with particular risks for severe disease, you may want to do everything possible to not expose them to actively sick parents."
For Sasha, the symptoms came and were completely gone within 10 days. Her 4-year-old felt completely better after just three days, and she was "at 80 percent" within a week.
How Families Affected By COVID-19 Can Receive Support
For working parents who qualify for benefits under the Family and Medical Leave Act (the program that typically supports parents following the birth or adoption of a child with 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected parental leave), they may be eligible for some support in the event that they or a dependent contracts COVID-19.
For many, that means they are eligible for up to six weeks of paid leave to care for themselves or others. "You will need a medical provider to sign off on this paperwork," Rebekah noted. "Make sure you tell them when symptoms start and when they resolve so they have a record. Find out now how your HR wants you to request and file this information as companies are just coming up with policies, and you have way more energy to deal with it now than you will if and when you're sick."
POPSUGAR aims to give you the most accurate and up-to-date information about the coronavirus, but details and recommendations about this pandemic may have changed since publication. For the latest information on COVID-19, please check out resources from the WHO, CDC, and local public health departments.