You Asked: What Can I Tell My Child About Coronavirus?

Mar 13, 2020

UPDATE: As the case count continues to rise, information on this story is moving quickly and may be out-of-date. We recommend checking the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for ways to stay safe and this John Hopkins tool for the most recent data

As some schools close, workers are told to telecommute and the Indianapolis-based NCAA shuts down tournaments, coronavirus is having a broader impact on our lives. To answer your questions about the changes, we got some help from Tom Duszynski, an epidemiologist with the Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI, and Ram Yeleti, Chief Physician Executive with Community Health Network. They   joined Indiana Public Broadcasting’s All IN on March 11.

Ram Yeleti is Chief Physician Executive, Community Health Network, which is the hospital to first see a case of COVID-19 in Indiana.
Credit Photo by Community Health Network.

Elementary and middle school children are asking questions about the coronavirus and how it's different from the regular flu. Why is it more scary in their minds, especially with the school closings and like Avon [Indiana] and other areas? What can we tell them to really give them a full understanding. 

YELETI: I think there are few things we need to let them know, let them know it's actually very similar to the cold or the flu…. And they will actually will do just fine from it. So they'll have similar symptoms to a typical cold or typical flu, they'll have runny nose, cough, sore throat, fevers, just might feel sluggish for a few days and they'll get over it. The biggest thing is that when they get in touch with their grandparents, if their grandparents catch it from them, we have no treatment. 

DUSZYNSKI: I think along with that is that you brought up a point earlier that this is way more infectious than influenza.

How likely is it for Indiana to close more schools as a means of containing the outbreak?

DUSZYNSKI: I think the likelihood is pretty high. To be honest, I think that you don't want to be that one school that doesn't close and you have an outbreak or something that occurs in that population. 

Tom Duszynski is Director of Epidemiology Education, Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI
Credit Photo by Fairbanks School of Public Health.

Should I prepare to not go out? How long should I prepare for?

DUSZYNSKI: So if you were in contact with a known case, we would consider you exposed. Especially if you're within three feet of that person, and they were coughing and even having conversation with them. We know the incubation period is two to 14 days right now. If you were in contact with a known case, you might want to think about self-quarantining for 14 days. So having those things at home that you would generally need to stay indoors for the next 14 days would be great. The other thing that we have now ... is home delivery. You can get groceries delivered to your door.

How long will this go on? If I have a trip planned for July? Will that be in jeopardy? 

DUSZYNSKI: Yeah, that's a difficult question to answer because we we don't know what this is going to do fully yet, right? We could look at other historical outbreaks like this and speculate, but that's kind of dangerous to do. So what I do is I tend to look at other countries like China, let's say for instance… We know this emerged in China in late 2019, and we watched it ramp up there and start working its way through the population. Just in the past week, their number of cases has actually started to decline, right, which is good news. And that could be for any number of reasons, including that it's burned through the population already. And everybody's been either exposed or infected. And they're now immune. So you know, this is middle of March. So did it take three months for it to move through a population the size of China, maybe that's kind of what it looks like. …. So that we could start seeing a reduction in cases but I don't think we've quite reached our peak yet in the U.S.

Should I cancel my trip?

DUSZYNSKI: It's a personal decision at this point, you know, what's the trip for? How important is it that I be there? Can I rearrange my flight for later in the year or my trip for later in the year? The whole idea is to separate people in this situation to minimize the spread of disease. So those are going to be individual decisions. And I think questions that people have to answer for themselves. 

YELETI: I actually probably would be even more aggressive than that. Again, I see this as a national health issue not about yourself, but the people around you. I would actually tell people don't take trips till the end of April for right now, we don't have enough information. You may do just fine, but you may inadvertently get somebody else sick who later dies.

Any suggestions for churches with large congregations that mix children and older people? How about the continuation of congregation-wide meals, like potluck dinners or Easter meals? 

YELETI: If you have lung problems and over age 60, you should be cautious of going anywhere for any reason at all. Outside of that, though, what churches and other people should be doing is trying to maximize that what we call the social distancing. So if you're able to have a congregational place where people could sit about three feet apart, have a lot of hand sanitizers that still allows for you to be able to to be able to help the congregation. 

If you have lung problems and over age 60, you should be cautious of going anywhere for any reason at all.

How worried should we be? Are we at an appropriate level? Should we be more worried or concerned or less? 

YELETI: I would rather three months from now be criticized for causing panic than having 1,000 of our Hoosiers die. So I think it's very important that we have the right level. But people just need to understand this is a big issue… It's going to affect others and if we don't act today, every day we delay it can cause people to die.

NOTE: The number of coronavirus cases in Indiana has risen since this interview aired on March 11. 

Next week, we'll have more questions and responses from this All IN show.

This story was produced by Side Effects Public Media, a news collaborative covering public health. Throughout the year, Side Effects will work closely with Indiana Public Broadcasting and WFYI to ask Americans about health issues, as part of the America Amplified: Election 2020 initiative. To join our texting group, text elections to 73224; we'll send questions each month and use your answers to inform our reporting. To contact us directly with a question, email health@wfyi.org 

America Amplified: Election 2020 is a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. America Amplified is using community engagement to inform and strengthen local, regional and national journalism. Follow America Amplified on Twitter at @amplified2020.