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The 2020-2021 school year ended last week and now families are doing some serious juggling––managing the school vacation, trying to work from home and taking care of the children who are no longer engaged in virtual education––all while trying to keep everyone safe in this pandemic. In busy households with small children, this can be difficult at best. A herculean task indeed!

There are researched guidelines that will aid any parent or caregiver in making solid choices when there may not be perfect solutions, particularly if one or more parent develops symptoms of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and needs to isolate.

Who should care for children

if a parent becomes ill

with COVID-19?

Creating a plan BEFORE a parent gets sick is crucial. Every family should have a backup plan for childcare in the event one parent, both parents, or other caregivers become ill. This should entail:

1. Where to isolate within the household

2. Who manages the grocery, medication purchases and other household bills

3. What information should be shared to the child so as not to convey fear or alarm

How can families minimise

exposure to other people in

the home if a parent becomes

ill with COVID-19 but is well enough to stay at home?

It is recommended that any sick parent (or family member) with COVID-19 tries to isolate away from healthy family members and children.

Some people may have the option of having the sick parent stay at an alternative residence until they are feeling better, but this is not a realistic option for many families.

• With one sick parent in a home with another caregiver, the sick person should remain isolated in a room with a closed door.

• The other parent can bring the sick family member food, drinks and medication to the bedside, taking care to clean his or her hands before entering the room and after leaving the room.

• They should limit their time in the room with the sick person and not touch their face while in the room.

• If masks are available, it is recommended that the sick person put on a mask if they will be near other family members or if others are entering their room to minimise spreading the virus in the air.

• If the home has more than one bathroom, one bathroom should be dedicated for use by the sick person.

• If the bathroom has to be shared by sick and well people in the home, the toilet should only be flushed with the lid closed and surfaces in the bathroom (such as countertops, toilet handles, doorknobs and other frequently touched surfaces) should be cleaned with a disinfecting household cleaner after the sick person uses the bathroom.

What happens if both parents develop COVID-19 or it is a single-parent home?

For single parents or situations if both parents become ill, we recommend considering other adult relatives like aunts or uncles, or close family friends as possible caregivers. Some people who get COVID-19 only have mild symptoms that resolve quickly, however some adults may become more ill and even require hospitalisation.

When both parents are ill, or where there is a single parent, ideally the sick children will be cared for by a well relative or friend.

If that is not an option, there may be times when the sick parent feels too ill to supervise and care for his/her children and may need help.

We encourage families to talk to possible backup caregivers ahead of time to consider plans if they were to help care for their children. Families may need to be mindful that immunocompromised adults or grandparents over 60 years of age are at increased risk for severe illness, so it is recommended to consider alternate caregivers.

What else can families do to prevent spread

of COVID-19 in their home?

Other things people can do to reduce chance of transmitting the virus to family members include:

1 Being mindful of hand washing for 20 seconds before eating or preparing food, after using the bathroom and before touching one’s face.

2Avoid sharing items like utensils and cups.

3Use separate linens/towels.

4Wipe down surfaces that we touch frequently with a disinfecting household cleaner (for example, doorknobs, refrigerator handle, drawer handles).

5Teach everyone in the home to cough and sneeze into the crooks of their elbows and throw away used tissues.

Let technology bridge

the social isolation gap

As a parent, you want to do everything you can to protect your child. Parents should have calm, proactive conversations with their children about COVID-19, and the important role children can play in keeping themselves healthy.

Let them know that it is possible for them to start feeling symptoms at some point, which are often very similar to the common cold or flu, and that they do not need to feel unduly frightened of this possibility.

Parents should encourage their children to let them know if they’re not feeling well, or if they are feeling worried about the virus so that the parents can be of help. Separating children from their parents in the home can be very difficult.

A child may be told that: “Mommy is sick and needs some rest, so you can’t go see her until she feels better in a few days.”

Using technology to bridge the communication gaps and the social isolation is necessary. Video calls, even within the same household may seem odd, but can be made into a fun-filled activity for children if the parent cannot interact directly with his/her child.

Maintaining social connections within the family network is crucial for the mental wellbeing of both the parent and the child.

Children rely on their parents to provide a sense of safety and security. It’s important that we remember they are the passengers in this and we are driving the car. And so, even if we’re feeling anxious, we can’t let that get in the way of them feeling like safe passengers.