COVID-19 symptoms in kids: What you need to know.

by Dr. Laura Brookshire, DO, Pediatrician and Facility Medical Director at MedStar Medical Group at North Parkville Health Center, Dr. Tia Medley, MD, Pediatrician and Facility Medical Director, MedStar Pediatrics in Perry Hall
July 27, 2020

While infants and kids can catch COVID-19, fewer than 5 percent of reported cases in the U.S. occur in children. And, kids that do catch the virus typically demonstrate much milder symptoms than adults. In fact, many children don’t show any symptoms at all.

Still, it’s helpful to know what COVID-19 symptoms in kids look like so you can take precautions to minimize the risk of infecting someone else. Here’s what you need to know about COVID-19 signs, potential complications, and how to decrease your child’s exposure.

Common COVID-19 symptoms in kids.

We don’t know exactly why infants and kids are less likely to catch COVID-19 or become as sick as adults. While COVID-19 symptoms in kids and adults can be similar, most children experience fewer symptoms—or none at all.

Kids who are 10 years and older may experience cold-like symptoms, such as:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

Babies and kids under the age of 10 often show fewer symptoms, which may include:

  • Fever
  • Runny nose
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain

Babies under the age of one may show very subtle symptoms that can be confused with signs of other illnesses. Poor feeding or nursing could be additional signs of an infection.

Risks of COVID-19 complications in kids.

While kids are less likely to be severely affected by COVID-19, some children are at an increased risk of developing COVID-19 complications due to underlying health conditions, such as obesity, heart disease, or lung disease. Likewise, kids who are undergoing cancer treatment or living with immune disorders may be at a higher risk of more severe illness because of a weakened immune system.

Early COVID-19 detection and prevention for kids.

It can be hard to detect the virus early because COVID-19 symptoms in kids are often subtle. And, other viral illnesses are common this time of year which can make it tricky to determine what’s ailing your child.

Instead of worrying about the “what ifs,” we recommend being vigilant about the things you can control to keep your family healthy, including:

Practicing frequent hand washing: Frequently washing hands for at least 20 seconds at a time is the best way to keep illness at bay.

Wearing masks: Kids over the age of two years old should wear a cloth face mask while in public or around others outside of the home. Children under the age of two and anyone with breathing conditions should not wear face masks.

Limiting exposure to sick family members: Most kids who are infected by COVID-19 get it from someone at home. If a family member comes down with COVID-19, you can minimize the spread by having them sleep and eat in a separate area of the house. Even if they don’t show symptoms of COVID-19, be sure to clean high-touch surfaces and avoid sharing items.

Safe socialization during COVID-19.

Socialization is especially important for children, and there are safe ways to ensure your kids are still interacting with friends and family while limiting their risk of exposure to COVID-19. Honest and transparent communications with your families, neighbors, and community can help you make decisions about when and where it’s safe to spend time with others.

How can I plan safe playdates?

Social distancing and stay-at-home orders are necessary for reducing the spread of COVID-19. But when your local government lifts shelter-in-place protocols, use your best judgment to determine how to resume playdates and safe social activities.
First, ask family members and friends if they’ve recently traveled, experienced COVID-19 symptoms, or have been tested for COVID-19. If they’re also consistently taking precautions to limit their exposure, such as wearing face masks and social distancing, then the risk is low.

Is it safe for your kids to have playdates with their friends this summer? On the #LiveWellHealthy blog, two pediatricians share what you need to know about COVID-19 and kids: https://bit.ly/3f5F7Og.

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Consider coordinating an outdoor playdate that allows kids to maintain a distance of six feet while enjoying each other’s company. This is harder for younger children, but there’s a variety of activities that don’t involve touching or sharing equipment. A bike ride, walk, or sidewalk game, like hopscotch, can be safe, fun ways for kids to stay connected with their peers.

When should I send my kids back to school or daycare?

Most daycares are open and closely following safety regulations to minimize the risk of COVID-19 exposure among children. And, many schools are resuming in the fall with proper guidelines in place to encourage frequent handwashing and social distancing.

As both pediatricians and parents, we understand that resuming regular activities can cause some concern. However, because school-age children have a low risk of complications from COVID-19, we believe the educational and social benefits far outweigh any risks.

It’s normal to feel hesitant about sending your kids back to school or daycare. We recommend asking your child’s school the following questions to understand how they’re implementing risk-reduction strategies.

  • What cleaning measures are in place?
  • How are you managing high-touch equipment, surfaces, or toys?
  • Are staff and/or children required to wear face masks? Will there be breaks built into the day?
  • How will you notify families if classmates get COVID-19?
  • How will you encourage frequent hand washing?

You can also stay updated with the latest recommendations for COVID-19 and kids on the American Academy of Pediatrics’ website for families, HealthyChildren.org. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also publishes trustworthy information online related to keeping kids healthy during the pandemic.

When to see a doctor.

While severe symptoms are unlikely, if your child experiences breathing problems, chest pain, or worsening fever, go to the emergency room.

In most cases, kids with COVID-19 can safely recover at home within one to two weeks. If symptoms worsen or your kids were exposed to someone who recently traveled or was diagnosed with COVID-19, call your pediatrician. Your pediatrician’s office can answer any questions you have using virtual visits to minimize the risk of exposure in the office setting. They can also direct to you a safe COVID-19 testing site nearby.

Most importantly, if your child gets COVID-19, keep them home and away from others, even if they don’t have symptoms.

With all of the uncertainty around the pandemic, be encouraged knowing that most kids aren’t at risk for developing severe COVID-19 symptoms. Continue modeling good hand hygiene and social distancing, and together, your family can help limit the spread.

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Category: Living Well     Tags: Children's Healthchildren's safetycovid-19kidsMedStar Health