As a new parent, one of the first things you learn is that taking care of a baby is really, really hard. In normal times, my husband and I lean heavily on an extended network of caregivers—grandparents, friends, babysitters, and daycare—for help with the monumental, sometimes mind-numbing task of caring for young children.
But these are not normal times. Social distancing has stripped us of our caregiver network. It’s a necessary public health tactic to slow the fast and potentially deadly spread of Covid-19 (in viral form it’s known as the novel coronavirus or SARS-CoV-2). But taking care of kids on your own is hard. It’s also scary when facing the specter of grave illness. What happens if one of you gets sick? What if both of you get sick?
We spoke to several infectious disease experts from Oregon Health & Science University, Stanford Children’s Health, and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for advice. Be sure to check out the CDC’s caregiving recommendations here, as well. Making plans in advance and wiping down your toilet can go a long way toward quelling your anxiety.
Designate a Caregiver
First, let’s plan for the worst-case scenario. If both you and your partner are incapacitated at the same time, or need to be hospitalized at the same time, you need to designate a caregiver. Unfortunately, if both you and your partner are sick, that means your children are also probably infected, which rules out Grandma Care.
“We know that SARS-CoV-2 disproportionately affects older individuals and risk of complications and mortality is highest in the elderly, so if feasible, it would be best to have the child stay with an aunt or uncle while the parents and child recover,” Dr. Priya Soni, assistant professor of pediatric infectious diseases at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, told WIRED over email.
Before You Get Sick, Make a Crisis Plan:
- Who is going to take care of your kids?
- Your dog?
- Identify nearby friends or family members who can help and are not in a high-risk population.
- Post potential caregiver contact information prominently so that emergency responders can find it. If you have no one to ask, a hospital can usually advise you on community resources for families in crisis.
We have no family nearby, so I have asked several childless, low-risk friends to be emergency caregivers.
If your designated caregivers have children, that’s OK too. The child may or may not develop it, but children typically don’t struggle with the disease much unless they have underlying conditions. “We are shocked by how well children are doing with this infection,” said Dr. Dawn Nolt, an associate professor of pediatric infectious disease at OHSU’s Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. “What they’re showing is very mild.”
Isolate, but Stay in Your Home
Now for the good news: “Unless a family member is at higher risk for contracting a severe case of Covid-19 or any viral illness due to age and/or existing health complications, then the same measures are recommended for Covid-19 as would be for influenza or another viral respiratory infection,” said Dr. Roshni Mathew, pediatric infectious disease specialist at Stanford Children’s Health and clinical assistant professor of pediatric infectious diseases at Stanford School of Medicine.
That means if your partner isn’t undergoing chemo or your children don’t have asthma, you can stay at home—just with an extra dose of hand-washing, keeping your dishes separate, and sleeping in a separate bedroom if possible. Try to maintain these boundaries until your health care provider deems you to have a low risk of transmission, or around 14 days.