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Your child has COVID-19… now what?

It can be scary when your child has symptoms of coronavirus. Fortunately, the majority of children with COVID-19 are able to manage symptoms and recover at home. While it can be a stressful time for families, Juan Dumois, M.D., an infectious diseases specialist at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, walks families through five steps of getting through each of the stages.

Step 1: Contact the Pediatrician About COVID-19 Testing

If your child is symptomatic, contact their pediatrician to determine if they should be seen virtually, in-person and/or should receive a COVID-19 test. Always keep your child at home if they are unwell to prevent the spread of illness. Common symptoms of COVID-19 include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Call your pediatrician or seek emergency care if your child develops the follow symptoms: 

  • Difficult or labored breathing
  • Signs of dehydration such as infrequent urination or inability to drink enough fluids
  • Unusual sleepiness, difficulty waking-up or confusion

If your pediatrician recommends a COVID-19 test, see if they offer testing at their office. Pinellas County and Hillsborough County also have free testing sites. PCR-based tests are more reliable than antigen-based tests (and may be the preferred test for some schools). 

Related: Where to get a FREE COVID Test in Tampa Bay for your family 

Step 2: Quarantine

If your child attends school in person, alert the school and anyone else he or she has been around recently that your child has tested positive for COVID-19. Your child should stay under isolation from others for 10 days following the onset of symptoms and until they are fever-free for at least 24 hours. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all live-in family members should also quarantine for the 14 days after the child develops symptoms or tests positive, as infection could arise anytime during this period. It is also advisable that family members get tested five to seven days after exposure to the child who tested positive if the family members are asymptomatic, or as soon as they show signs of any symptoms. [The CDC guidance in this paragraph regarding quarantine and isolation has changed since this article was first published. In December 2021, the CDC reduced the number of days from 10 days to 5 days and then recommends wearing a mask for 5 more additional days when around others. Read more here.]

Parents should also look out for an inflammatory condition called Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) that can occur 2-6 weeks after COVID-19 infection in children. If your child develops persistent fevers, especially if accompanied by rash, abdominal pain, vomiting or diarrhea, call your pediatrician for guidance.

Step 3: Treat and Help Relieve Symptoms 

It’s important that your child stays hydrated. Offer  plenty of liquids and encourage rest. Talk to your pediatrician about specific treatment plans. They may suggest that acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be used as needed to help relieve aches, pains and fevers. 

Step 4: Protect All of the Family

If other household members do not have COVID-19, they should isolate from the ill family member and take the below actions:

  • You and your child (if over 2 years old) should wear a mask whenever you are caring for them in close proximity. 
  • For children in diapers, caregivers should consider wearing gloves and must wash their hands after diaper changes. The virus is found in the stool.
  • It is best practice for your child to stay in one room and use a separate bathroom away from other family members, if possible. 
  • All family members should wash their hands frequently:
    • Use soap and water, singing the Happy Birthday song twice before stopping.
    • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
  • Avoid sharing household items and wash them thoroughly after your sick child uses them.
  • Sanitize all high-touch surfaces with a cleaning spray or wipe frequently throughout the day.

Step 5: Prevent Future Infections and the Spread of COVID-19

Although most children with COVID-19 have mild illness, many require treatment in a hospital and some may develop long-term symptoms (“long COVID”) that can last for weeks or months. The best protection against COVID-19 is to get your child vaccinated if they are 5 or older. [Age updated to reflect the Pfizer vaccine being approved for kids 5 and older which occurred after this article’s original publish date.] The vaccine is safe and protects against the potential complications and harm from COVID-19 infection. Vaccine sites are located across Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. Continue to wear a mask while in public or at school, and maintain physical distancing. Remember that no one strategy to prevent people from getting COVID is perfect. However, layering the strategiesvaccines plus masksgives a high level of protection. 

For more tips and information about COVID-19, visit Johns Hopkins All Children’s COVID-19 resource center.

*Presented by John’s Hopkins All Children’s Hospital

About the Author: Dr. Dumois is a Pediatric Infectious Diseases physician at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. He joined the Hospital in 1993. He helps treat children with a variety of infectious diseases and is the director of our International Adoption Clinic.

Dr. Dumois received his medical degree from the University of South Florida College of Medicine and completed his pediatric residency at All Children’s Hospital/USF, serving as chief resident. He completed his fellowship in pediatric infectious disease at Children’s National Medical Center, Washington, D.C., in a joint program with the National Institutes of Health. He was awarded the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital Physician of the Year Clinical Award in 2016.

A fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Dumois is board certified in pediatric infectious diseases. He has received the USF Pediatric Attending Teacher of the Year Award and has been included in Best Doctors in America for more than a decade.

Juan Dumois
Juan Dumois
Juan Dumois is an Infectious Diseases Specialist at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.

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