-by Trina Pruitt, parent and Go Public contributor

By now we are all aware of the coronavirus from the flood of media attention and widespread concern.  We have been inundated with the basic rules of prevention: wash your hands, use hand sanitizer, cover your coughs/ sneezes, avoid contact with sick people, and the most basic, seemingly simple, yet most difficult of them all – stop touching your face!

But beyond prevention information and the daily rising numbers of cases worldwide, there are many of us who still have questions.  While discussing the topic with friends, as everyone seems to be doing lately, I found that most people are concerned about their kids’ general health, what the schools are doing to help prevent the spread of germs, and what the future looks like in schools if there is an outbreak.  In researching some of the answers, I came across a few other frequently asked questions that helped me feel much more knowledgeable, and therefore calm, about the coronavirus issue.

Why is it sometimes called “coronavirus”, “novel coronavirus”, or “COVID-19”?

Coronavirus the name of the virus which causes the disease named COVID-19 (which itself is an abbreviation of COronaVIrus 2019).  The term ‘novel’ means that it is a new virus that has never been seen before.

What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

Most people show no signs at all, or flu-like symptoms such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath.  Only about 20% of cases show more severe symptoms, and those cases are in people 65 years and older or with prior health issues (What is the Coronavirus- NPR). The good news here is that children rarely contract the disease, and if they do, symptoms are mild and they usually recover. 

What are schools doing to help prevent the spread of the virus?

Just about every public school district has put out a statement via website and/or social media regarding the issue.  Most superintendents have released letters to the community outlining the district policies on daily disinfection in their schools.  

Coronavirus Info San Antonio Schools

Some parents are concerned about school closures.  Several public schools have currently suspended classes, and a few local universities have extended spring break in order to prepare students and staff for switching to online classes. Our public school districts take this issue very seriously, as the schools provide vital resources and services to many families in the community.  Closures could affect children’s nutrition and wellness, as well as their educational growth. In any case, the district will keep their information up to date and contact parents and students with any changes regarding closures.

How can we discuss the virus with our children?

The National Association of School Psychologists and National Association of School Nurses offer helpful suggestions (Talking to Children About Covid-19). The important thing here is to make communication age-appropriate.  High schoolers can discuss facts like adults, and they can use online statistics and tools to understand the spread of the disease and its impact on the world.  I came upon a live, interactive map from Johns Hopkins that I found fascinating, and I think older kids could use it to better comprehend the current state of the virus.

Middle schoolers might ask direct questions about safety and personal concerns about themselves, their family, and their school.  They may need reassurance of the tactics and efforts of the community to combat the spread of germs. Pay attention to what they are reading or seeing in the media and on social networks to be sure they are getting honest and appropriate information. They may need help discerning rumors from reality.  This interesting comic from NPR does a great job of explaining the coronavirus on a child’s level. 

Elementary school children need very simple information that assures them that adults are there to help keep them safe and healthy and to take care of them if they get sick.  Children will react to how things are explained, an adult’s tone of voice, and parents’ conversations with others.  Keep these things in mind in order to exude calmness and reassurance. Remind them of the importance of preventing the spread of germs like handwashing, covering coughs, etc.  You might even want to make time with them to do an activity while you discuss the situation, like making homemade hand sanitizer or DIY antibacterial wipes. The point is to stay positive and honest so that they do not become anxious or confused.

While the implications of the coronavirus are yet to be seen, we can do what we can on an individual, family, school, and community level to keep ourselves safe right now.  Panic has no benefit, especially with children around. The best we can do is stay informed, stay calm, and stay as healthy as possible, taking care of ourselves and each other.

Additional resources:

Center for Disease Control FAQs

Texas Dept of Health and Human Services

TEA Spring Break/ Travel Guidance