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COVID Precautions Can Help Kids During Cold Season


What happens when remote school and face masks and social distancing all begin to wind down? Children start getting colds - that's what.

NOA LADLY: One day, I came home from wherever I was, and I was very snuffly (ph). And then I had a cold, and then my little sister got it.

SIMON: That's Noa Ladly, who's 6. That cold got her mother, NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin, wondering, are there COVID-era precautions that parents of youngsters should hang on to?

SELENA SIMMONS-DUFFIN, BYLINE: The answer, according to the infectious disease experts I called, is a resounding yes. The spread of lots of the respiratory viruses that make parents like me miserable pretty much all year can be stopped using the same virus-fighting tools. In fact, these tools may be even more effective against run-of-the-mill germs than they were against SARS-CoV-2 since the coronavirus is stealthy, very transmissible and new. So in pre-pandemic times, it may have seemed like a weird move to put on a mask during story time. But Dr. Tina Tan says that is her top tip.

TINA TAN: If you're going to be face-to-face with them - they're sitting in your lap. You're reading to them. You're feeding them, et cetera - then I would say wear a mask.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Tan is a pediatric infectious disease physician at Lurie Children's Hospital in Chicago and a professor at Northwestern. Whether it's influenza or a rhinovirus or something else, masks stop infectious particles like virus-filled droplets from getting into your nose, eyes or mouth and getting you sick.

TAN: You don't need an N95. You could wear, basically, a medical mask. You could wear, you know, a cloth mask that has at least two-ply.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Even better, put a mask on the person who's sick, says Seema Lakdawala, a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine who studies influenza transmission.

SEEMA LAKDAWALA: If your kids are old enough to wear a mask, that would probably be the best strategy.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Your kid will be most infectious for the first few days of symptoms, so maybe keep this up for three or four days. If masks at home aren't your thing...

LAKDAWALA: When my kids are sick, what I end up doing is I open the windows. I turn on the fans. I get a lot more air circulation going on in the house. And I do try to just, like, not snuggle them, keep them a little bit at a distance.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: So what about cleaning? There is good news on that front, says Tan.

TAN: You don't need to go overboard. I mean, most of these viruses don't live on surfaces for very long periods of time.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Much more important than surface cleaning or HEPA filters or extra laundry is washing your hands. A really common way for transmission to happen is you touch something with germs on it and then touch your face.

JENNIFER SHU: So the same hand-washing guidelines for COVID also apply for common respiratory illnesses.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: That's Dr. Jennifer Shu, a pediatrician in Atlanta and medical editor of from the American Academy of Pediatrics. So when someone in your house is sick, keep up that frequent COVID-era hand-washing - just regular soap and lukewarm water lathered for about 20 seconds. All of this said, Shu notes that it's worth, in general, not getting too obsessive about infection control for garden-variety viruses at home.

SHU: At some point, we all build up our immune systems just from even low-level exposures to viruses.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: You can think about the Swiss cheese model of transmission control, she says - every layer of protection helps.

SHU: If you find that wearing a face shield is too much, but you do everything else, you're still going to limit your exposure to different viruses.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: In other words, just do what works for you and your family. Selena Simmons-Duffin, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Selena Simmons-Duffin reports on health policy for NPR.