Kids and COVID-19: What every parent needs to know


by Wendy Lai, MD

Dec 10, 2020

With COVID-19 still spreading in many communities, there are a number of concerns about how the virus will affect our kids, especially now that winter has arrived and school is in full swing. 

As a pediatrician, let me first say that you are not alone in these worries — as a parent, it’s only natural to care about your child’s well-being. But rest assured, in order to help you navigate all these uncertainties, I’m sharing some common FAQs about the virus, written specifically for parents! 

What are the symptoms of COVID-19 in kids?

No matter the age — from infancy to adolescence — symptoms of COVID-19 tend to range from child to child. The most common symptoms seen are:

  • Nasal congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Your child may show all of these symptoms or only one. Older kids can verbalize loss of taste or smell, body aches or fatigue, but most younger kids cannot. Fever can sometimes be a symptom but is not always present in kids. 

Be careful, COVID-19 can look just like a cold, infection, allergies or the flu. This is why it’s important to contact your pediatrician or family medicine physician about any concerning symptoms.

How serious is COVID-19 for children?

The pediatric population has done surprisingly well with COVID-19, and hospitalization rates are significantly lower than those for adults. Even children with chronic medical problems like asthma are generally faring well when infected with COVID-19.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that the virus is unpredictable and has caused healthy people to face serious and/or long-term symptoms.

Usually, the more concerning issue is the spread of the virus from kids to any older adults living at home who are more at risk for developing complications. 

What should I do if my child gets COVID-19?

COVID-19 is treated like most other viral infections — with supportive, symptomatic care. There is no treatment for COVID-19 itself. For mild symptoms, talk to your child’s doctor and follow the below at-home treatments:

  • Fever: For fevers, treat as needed with acetaminophen. Use age-appropriate over the counter medications to relieve specific symptoms and try these at-home fever remedies.
  • Breathing: Be sure to monitor your child for signs of respiratory distress, including chest pain and difficulty breathing. 
  • Dehydration: If your child is vomiting or has diarrhea, make sure he/she is able to stay hydrated. Some signs of dehydration include: no tear production when crying, decreased urine output and respiratory distress, including breathing short, rapid breaths and ribs sinking in when inhaling. If your child shows any of these dehydration symptoms, please contact your pediatrician or take them to the emergency room. 

If you or your child is diagnosed with COVID-19, Baylor Scott & White Health’s digital at-home monitoring can provide the support your family needs to recover well at home. Download the MyBSWHealth app to get started.

Related: COVID-19 digital at-home monitoring support for children and families

Is my newborn at higher risk of COVID-19?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), babies under one year old and children with certain underlying conditions may be at increased risk of severe illness.

However, to date, newborns and infants have not been shown to be more susceptible to complications of COVID-19 compared to older kids. Symptoms of the virus in infants are the same as older children, though supportive measures are going to also include nasal saline drops, bulb suctioning and possibly increased feeds. 

Symptomatic care in newborns and infants can differ from older kids since they are too young for most over the counter medications. Please contact your pediatrician if you have any questions or concerns.

How can I tell between COVID-19 and the flu?

You can’t! Here’s why. Proper testing needs to be performed to differentiate between COVID-19 and influenza.

When should I take my child to the doctor?

If your child develops a fever, let your pediatrician know as soon as possible. It is important for us to distinguish COVID-19 from influenza early because the flu can be treated within the first 72 hours of onset. 

If your child shows any symptoms of COVID-19, you should also schedule an appointment before your child returns to school to determine if it’s safe to do so. And as previously mentioned, take your child to the emergency room if he or she shows any signs of respiratory distress, difficulty breathing dehydration, lethargy or any other concerning symptoms.

What if my child was exposed to COVID-19?

For any COVID-19 exposure, the CDC recommends you quarantine your child for 14 days and monitor for the development of symptoms. If any symptoms develop, contact your pediatrician to discuss whether a COVID-19 test is indicated. Be sure to follow along with CDC resources for the most up to date recommendations, as these guidelines are subject to change.

More questions about how to keep your family well during the pandemic and beyond? Subscribe to the Scrubbing In newsletter for the answers.

About the Author

Wendy Lai, MD, is a pediatrician on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Family Health Center – Mesquite.

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