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COVID-19: Expert advice for parents from Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital

JOIN our NEW Facebook Group: BRIGHT IDEAS | Parenting in Quarantine 

News about the COVID-19 appearing in Tampa Bay is unsettling for many families as it makes headlines on every major news site–it’s evident as people clear store shelves of hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes in the Tampa Bay Area and beyond.

While there is a cause for heightened awareness about preventing any infectious disease, there is no reason to panic.

Learn more about the local response to COVID-19 and coronavirus in Tampa Bay.

As a parent, we know it can be hard not to have some serious questions.

While you want to practice good hand washing habits (20 seconds! or longer with soap and water) and social distancing, there are still many unknowns.

NEW: Watch our April 1, 2020 interview with Dr. Juan Dumois

We posed 9 common questions we’re hearing from local parents to Dr. Juan Dumois, a pediatric infectious disease physician at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, to help you take the right steps to protect your family.

1) We keep hearing that hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent illness. What’s the general rule of thumb to teach our kids?

Dr. Dumois: When using soap and water, use enough soap to lather the front and back of both hands and in between the fingers while cleaning under running water.  To clean your hands effectively, it should take at least 20 seconds, which is similar to singing the ABC song at a normal tempo or the happy birthday song twice.

If using hand sanitizer, use enough so that it takes at least 15 seconds before both sides of both hands are completely dry; most people do not use enough.

2) Can viruses/germs/bacteria exist for a long period of time on “daily use objects” like cell phones, laptops, books, etc., and if so any benefit in trying to clean them regularly?

Dr. Dumois: Yes, viruses may temporarily live on hard daily-use objects. For some viruses it is a matter of hours, and others may last for days.

If you are the only person touching that object, it may not have to be cleaned since you are just exposed to your own germs.

A big exception would be cell phones, since people frequently handle those in public before and after having touched other potentially contaminated objects in their environment.

It is probably a good idea to minimize use of your cell phone in public until you have had a chance to clean your hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer.

3) Is there a better or worse way to clean (example: spray something on a surface and immediately wipe or let sit for a minute?) Any benefit in increasing regularity of cleaning bathrooms/toilets/etc?

Dr. Dumois: The virus may last for a few days on hard, nonporous surfaces.

It is best to clean surfaces in the home using common disinfectants that leave the surface slightly moist after you have wiped it. The time that it takes the disinfectant to evaporate helps to kill the virus.

Most household disinfectants work, including diluted bleach (1 part bleach to 10 parts water).

If someone in your home is sick with a respiratory virus (common cold, flu, coronavirus, etc.), it may be helpful to clean objects frequently touched by the sick person at least once a day and preferably before those objects are touched by well people in the home.

4) Are there any benefits to HVAC A/C filters that advertise as filtering out virus particles?

Dr. Dumois: No. Outside of a hospital setting, expensive High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) air conditioner filters or room air filters probably would not make any difference.

5) Any pros or cons in stocking up on spare bottles of fever/pain reducing medication like Advil and Tylenol?  If so, how much?

Dr. Dumois: It is always a good idea to have certain medicines available at home, particularly during the winter virus season.

For fever, have some acetaminophen (Tylenol or generic) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, or generic) around. A cough medication containing dextromethorphan might help with a cough at night depending on the age of the child.

People with asthma should get their medication refilled before they run out.

A 5 to 7-day supply should be sufficient

6) Are there any benefits to taking vitamins like Vitamin C, etc?

Dr. Dumois: We currently have no information on whether certain supplements help people infected with the COVID-19 virus.

However, people who do not maintain a healthy, broad-based diet may have an immune system that is not working at peak capacity.

Since our immune systems help fight off infection, people with a poor diet might benefit from a daily multivitamin that also contains trace minerals.

7) Is it too late to get the flu vaccine?

Dr. Dumois: It is not too late to get the flu vaccine. It is possible to get the flu and coronavirus at the same time. Even if you get the flu after having received the vaccine, you usually will not be as sick as people who did not receive the vaccine.

8) If somebody in the family has symptoms of COVID-19, what should we do?  Go to doctor or walk-in clinic or ER, or call doctor first and how to tell what symptoms are “normal” cold vs more serious? Will people even be screened for the virus?

Dr. Dumois: The symptoms of novel COVID-19 are the same as for the flu and most other respiratory viruses. People should call their doctor if they have the symptoms listed above and have traveled to or been in contact with someone who traveled to one of the countries at high risk as identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), or in contact someone known to have the COVID-19 virus. They may also be tested if they are hospitalized with a respiratory illness.

If your doctor recommends that you visit a local emergency center, call ahead so the team at the hospital can prepare for your arrival. It’s important to know that, at this time, only the county health department has test kits available and will determine whether a patient is a candidate for COVID-19 testing.

Keep in mind that so far, infections in children have been less common and there is no evidence that children are more susceptible to this virus. The CDC has answers to many questions about the coronavirus (COVID-19) and children.

9) We have a family vacation scheduled for spring break and/or summer. Should we be concerned about flying, cruising or attending theme parks?

*Note: This story was published before travel advisories and Safer at Home orders occurred.

Dr. Dumois: Vacation plans depend upon the destination. People should cancel plans to the countries currently listed as having outbreaks (currently China, Japan, South Korea, Iran, and Italy).

Other plans depend upon the particular destination, whether there are any people with a weakened immune system in your family, and the likelihood of exposure to large groups of people.

Vacation plans in sparsely populated destinations, such as national parks or mountain cabins, may entail less risk of exposure to viruses than travel to large amusement parks.

Regardless of the destination, it is appropriate to teach and monitor good handwashing among all members of your family, especially before they eat, drink, or touch their faces.

Have hand sanitizer readily available at all times, and do not forget to use it frequently and correctly.

(Note: Many theme parks and attractions are beginning to announce temporary closures. Be sure to visit each attraction’s website to stay up to date.)

For more information, visit the hospital’s COVID-19 info page here.

More Important Links/Resources:

Johns Hopkins Medicine Coronavirus Resource Page

Florida Department of Health

Florida Department of Health COVID-19 Hotline: 866-779-6121

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Laura Byrne
Laura Byrne is an award-winning former television news journalist who spent 15+ years in newsrooms across the state of Florida including Sarasota, Tallahassee, Fort Myers and right here in Tampa Bay where she still freelances on occasion. She covered the political beat, crime beat and every day breaking news during her time in Florida newsrooms, but is now focused on sharing positive news stories and events with families in Tampa Bay. She is a proud mommy of two little boys who keep her on her toes and laughing every day. Her goal is to inspire families just like yours to get out and play and experience all that Tampa Bay and our great state of Florida have to offer! She encourages you to share your stories and upcoming events so we can spread the good news.

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