What to do when your child is ill during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic?

Scientists are learning new information and making new recommendations daily regarding coronavirus, COVID-19. Many parents have concerns about what to do if their child becomes sick. So far, it appears that most children exhibit similar symptoms as adults, but they generally have much milder cases.

Paul Fischbuch, M.D.


Reported symptoms of coronavirus, COVID-19, in children include cold-like symptoms, such as fever, sore throat, dry cough and fatigue. Vomiting and diarrhea have also been reported but are less frequent. Most children will recover within one to two weeks after symptoms start. Some children are asymptomatic with this virus; they will test positive but will look and act healthy.

Treatment at home

Children who are mildly ill with COVID-19 will most likely be able to isolate at home during their illness. If a child becomes ill with viral symptoms, such as fever and cough, they should be separated from other family members as much as possible. If a child is old enough to wear a face mask, they should do this to try to minimize spread to other family members. Everyone in the family should stay home and continue to frequently wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not easily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands with sanitizer and rub together until they feel dry. If it is possible, the child should use a bathroom that is separate from others used by the family. If this is not possible, the bathroom should be wiped down often with bleach or antibacterial wipes.

Parents should also make sure that children are well hydrated and getting plenty of rest. A child may need further medical attention if they begin to have:

  • Trouble drinking
  • Show signs of dehydration, such as not peeing
  • Have fast or labored breathing
  • Difficulty staying awake

Children with underlying health issues, such as asthma, need to maintain their regular medications and follow their asthma action plan if they develop symptoms of COVID-19.

Seeking treatment

A parent should call the child’s pediatrician/physician if they have concerns about their ill child. It is important at this time to not immediately assume an emergency room visit is necessary. A child’s doctor knows his/her medical history and can determine if a child needs to be seen, and what type of visit may be appropriate (whether emergency room, office visit, virtual care/telemedicine visit, etc.).

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many pediatricians are using technology to provide telehealth medicine. This way, a child can stay at home and be evaluated over a video visit and the parent can then be given advice for treatment.

In general, testing for COVID-19 in children is not necessary. Testing will become more available in the future, but it is still largely limited to people who are more severely ill or when knowing the diagnosis will make a difference in treatment or management. There are currently no known treatments or vaccines for COVID-19.  Prevention is still the key in keeping children healthy. It is crucial to maintain social distancing, frequent hand washing with soap and water for at least 20 minutes, and to stay up to date on the most recent information.

An important reminder

Remember, making sure that your child remains current on the recommended vaccines for typical childhood illnesses is an important part of maintaining optimal health, despite COVID-19. The current pandemic should not deter you from seeking care or obtaining necessary vaccinations for your baby or child.

Paul Fischbuch, MD, is a pediatrician with Ascension Medical Group in Rhinelander.