Help Protect Kids and Teens from Coronavirus

Little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems they said. And they were right — especially when it comes to reining in bigger kids during a pandemic.

By Renée Bacher
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Struggling to keep your children in the house as, city by city, America locks down to flatten the coronavirus curve? David S. Boisoneau, MD, feels your pain. A father of three kids, ages 18, 21 and 23, (all currently in his home), he’s also chair of the American Academy of Otolaryngology Head & Neck Surgery’s Legislative Affairs Committee and an ENT in private practice in Waterford, Connecticut who frequently treats respiratory conditions. 

While the White House recently released the following coronavirus guidelines to help slow its spread for the next two weeks, parents still have questions about how best to protect their babies, children, and teens from the highly contagious and potentially deadly disease. And their young adults may be pushing hard against boundaries that did not exist just a couple of weeks ago.

“This is obviously very difficult and it puts a lot of stress on family dynamics,” says Dr. Boisoneau who told his kids they weren’t congregating anywhere with their friends, even outdoors. He explained to them that beyond getting sick themselves, if he is exposed there are big repercussions for his patients and his practice. 

“The most important thing we are doing is leading by example,” he said. “My wife and I are not participating in social activities with anyone outside of our home, so they see that we’re not asking them to do anything we’re not doing ourselves.” 

We posed a few scenarios to Dr. Boisoneau, which readers may be grappling with now. Here’s his advice as a physician — and a dad:

Practical Social Distancing Tips

My very extroverted eight-year-old is home from school and struggling with social isolation while I try to work. Can she kick a ball with a neighborhood kid as long as both children promise not to touch the ball with their hands, or get within six feet of each other?

• The simple answer is yes, that sounds great. But eight year olds don't have the ability to self-police so a couple of kids could turn into four or five kids. It's a slippery slope, and I'm finding that with teenagers and young adults, too, because they're going to push it as much as they can. It may sound harsh, but if I had an eight year old in my house, I'd say, "I'm so sorry you're desperate to be with your friends. But it's better than potentially exposing your grandparent or other people to a dangerous virus." Keep in mind, I have nothing but empathy for people going through this because I'm going through it myself. If they're really inconsolable, let them go kick a ball with their friend, while you stand outside there with them for 15 minutes to make sure they're doing it right.

 

I live in an apartment in a big city. Can we limit my teenager to having one or two of the same friends from the building come over?

• Sounds good on paper but you can’t control who that child is interacting with. I'd like to have more faith in our youth, but their brains aren’t fully formed yet, and they just don’t necessarily have impulse control. Let them hang out virtually.

 

My college student just got back from Europe. Should we quarantine her from the rest of the family for 14 days?

• As far as I know, there’s no automatic quarantine for just being away. My own daughter just got back from Ireland, and she passed the screening coming back into the country, which involved taking her temperature and asking if she had symptoms. If your child feels they have been exposed or are a potential risk, they need to self-isolate. That's different from quarantining, which means staying in a confined space without being around anyone. Socially isolating means you can be outside, you can go to the store maintaining six feet of distance between yourself and everyone else, and you can be around the members of your household.

 

How do you manage social isolation between households when you share custody of a child or teen?

• With difficulty. If it's a tightly controlled situation, and both parties are comfortable with the amount of people that come in and out of their social sphere, I guess you have to allow it if you have good communication between all parents. Alternately, instead of switching every week you could ask the other parent if they would agree to two-week blocks. Reevaluate after the first two weeks is up, and if the restrictions have changed, or the situation is different, then adapt accordingly.

Children don't have the ability to self-police, so a couple of kids could turn into four or five kids. I'm finding that with teenagers and young adults, too; they're going to push it as much as they can.

ENT David S. Boisoneau, MD, chair of the American Academy of Otolaryngology Head & Neck Surgery’s Legislative Affairs Committee

Immune Support Products vs. Coronavirus

Is it a good idea to give kids high doses of vitamin C and other over-the-counter immune builders to protect them?

• At no point should you think that this is actually going to protect them from getting coronavirus or be a substitute for proper treatment if they do get sick. Personally, I wouldn't spend resources on expensive remedies that have no clinical or documented scientific evidence-based benefits against something like Covid-19. And don’t let them tell you at any point, “Hey Mom, I just had my vitamin C tablets so I should be okay to go hang out with my friends.”

 

What about putting air purifiers with filters that say they catch viruses in my child’s room? Or spraying disinfectants in the air? Is that a good thing to be doing right now?

• Air filters are probably a good idea, but I am not an expert on that or on aerosolized sanitizers. I think it can't hurt. With sanitizers, though, those particles drop to the floor after you spray, so you’re not really sanitizing the air, you’re sanitizing the floor. If you practice social isolation properly, you really only need to wipe down surfaces in your house with alcohol or bleach-based wipes once a day. The virus can’t jump into the house an hour after your last wipe down if nobody else has come into the house. Don’t consume important resources by overdoing it with sanitizers and hand wipes.  

Read more: Do you have Coronavirus anxiety? You're hardly alone. Take a deep breath, then read How to Keep Calm in the Age of Coronavirus for tips during this deeply unsettling time. 

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