This time of year, illness seems to be everywhere. For those of us who work with children every day, the sounds of coughing, sneezing and nose-blowing are an unpleasant soundtrack playing on repeat from November to May. And this year, Coronavirus, concerning new respiratory illness in China is getting a lot of attention and has many people worried about what will happen if it spreads in the United States.
What is coronavirus?
Coronavirus is a fairly common type of virus that can cause coughs, colds and fevers. Like the flu, there are different strains of coronavirus that can make people sick. Most of the strains are familiar, meaning people have been exposed to them in the past and many people are immune to them. Sometimes, a new strain of the virus emerges that people have not been exposed to before. That’s what is happening with coronavirus this year. Because the strain of the virus is novel, or new, more people are getting sick and we don’t have a good vaccine to prevent it.
Should I be worried?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “For the general American public, who are unlikely to be exposed to this virus, the immediate health risk for [new coronavirus] is considered low.” Most of the people who are getting sick are in China or have recently traveled to China. We are learning more about the virus every day and the World Health Organization is concerned about it continuing to spread internationally, so it is important to know how to prevent infectious diseases from spreading and where to go for accurate public health information.
How can I prepare?
Doctors and scientists are still learning about the new virus and trying to understand how it spreads from person to person. As they learn more, we will get a better understanding of how to protect ourselves. For now, the CDC recommends protecting yourself and the children in your care by taking some basic precautions:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
For child care providers, that means staying vigilant about hand hygiene and keeping a close eye on children and staff who are showing signs of illness. Daily health checks are a great way for providers to take a few moments to notice how each child is looking, feeling and acting when they first arrive. That will make it easier to notice if the child’s behavior or symptom’s change throughout the day.
In the long run, it is important for child care programs to have a plan for dealing with disease outbreaks. The American Academy of Pediatrics has a series of resources that can help you protect your health and your business in situations where lots of children or adults are getting sick.
Where can I go for more information?
The CDC has the most up-to-date information about what is going on with coronavirus in the U.S. For information about what is going on in your community, reach out to your state or local public health agency or contact a child care health consultant.