Taking Care of Children During a Global Pandemic

We are in the middle of a global crisis of extraordinary proportions that is affecting age groups in a different way. Statistics show that the elderly and people with chronic medical conditions such as diabetes and heart disease are more vulnerable to Corona Virus, although in the U.S., 12% of the intensive care patients and 40% of all patients are between the ages of 20 and 44.

Children are also carriers of the virus but have shown little to no symptoms, unknowingly spreading the highly contagious disease when they come in contact with other children, their families or caregivers. This is why parents and educators must do their best to teach basic hygienic practices. The World Health Organization recommends regular hand washing which lasts at least 20 seconds, cleaning and disinfecting surfaces at least once a day and maintaining social distancing (6-feet). 

FIGURE 1. Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) hospitalizations,* intensive care unit (ICU) admissions, and deaths,§ by age group — United States, February 16– March 21, 2020

 Severe Outcomes Among Patients with Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) — United States, February 12–March 16, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. ePub: 18 March 2020. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6912e2

* Hospitalization status missing or unknown for 1,514 cases.
† ICU status missing or unknown for 2,253 cases.
§ Illness outcome or death missing or unknown for 2,001 cases.

The NYC Public School system, the largest in the country, closed on 3/16 until further notice, leaving 1.1 million children unattended. The district has 750,000 children who are low-income and rely on school for basic services. In the US, students consuming a school lunch under the National School Lunch Program get more than one-third of their daily calories from food and drink provided at school. School meals can have many other benefits including alleviating poverty by reducing household food expenditure. School meals act as safety nets, maintaining children’s food consumption during times of crisis.

This dire situation is worsened in the least developed countries where on each school day, half of the world’s school students eat a free or subsidized meal. For these 310 million children and their families, school meals are a lifeline, providing nutritious food that children would not get at home.

Equity for Children urges the Mayor of NYC and the Governor to ensure immediate poverty alleviation measures such as cash transfers that take into consideration children’s needs. These are difficult times for humanity and even more for the urban poor, who, due to the economic halt, are already lacking income and living in overcrowded households. Children’s economic and social vulnerability is exacerbated in crisis like this that is why it is essential to ensure the continuation of service delivery, like the above-mentioned school lunch programs as well as cash transfers to secure a family income. 

Limiting social interaction for extended periods of time also takes a toll. Children being forced to stay home all day with their parents, who in many cases must continue their professional activities, is stressful for households where daily structure and routines have been radically disrupted for everyone.  Equity for Children encourages parents who are homeschooling to maintain a structure by creating a schedule and routine for online learning.  It is important to remain flexible with your children, take breaks to walk and play outdoors, and try to maintain a positive attitude within the family.

To help children cope with this health emergency, look for stress responses which can manifest in difficulties sleeping, bedwetting, having pain in the stomach or head, and being anxious, withdrawn, angry, clingy or afraid to be left alone. UNICEF recommends letting them know about the virus in an age-appropriate manner. Keep regular routines and schedules as much as possible, especially before they go to sleep, or help create new ones in a new environment. Also, when talking to children about the pandemic, the CDC suggests that parents remain calm and reassuring. “Remember that children will react to both what you say and how you say it. They will pick up cues from the conversations you have with them and with others.”

To read more click on:

UNICEF’s Key Messages and Actions for COVID-19 Prevention and Control in Schools_March 2020

The Global Coalition to End Child Poverty Blog on Covid-19’s Devastating Blow on Child Poverty

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