Parents share what it's like caring for a child who has COVID-19: 'Very scared'

·8 min read
Amber Wischer helps her daughter Brecklin with a self-administered spit test at a COVID-19 testing facility in Stillwater, Minn. (Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)
Amber Wischer helps her daughter Brecklin with a self-administered spit test at a COVID-19 testing facility in Stillwater, Minn. (Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

Earlier in the summer, COVID-19 cases hit their lowest daily numbers since the pandemic began. Now they're soaring again. On Monday, the United States saw nearly 93,000 new COVID-19 cases diagnosed. One group that's having especially high numbers? Kids.

Children under the age of 15 are among the hardest-hit age groups developing new cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently reported that there were nearly 94,000 COVID-19 cases reported among children and teens the week ending Aug. 5, which the organization called a "continuing substantial increase."

"After declining in early summer, child cases have steadily increased since the beginning of July," the AAP said in its report. "Since the pandemic began, children represented 14.3 percent of total cumulated cases. For the week ending August 5, children were 15 percent of reported weekly COVID-19 cases."

The AAP also noted that, over the two-week period from July 22 to Aug. 5, there was a 4 percent increase in the number of childhood COVID-19 cases. 

Related video: Doctor weighs in on COVID-19 and protecting your family

The CDC has updated its guidance on getting children safely back in classrooms and now recommends that all students and school staff wear masks in school — regardless of vaccination status. 

Parents are increasingly growing concerned, and plenty are actually grappling with the reality of having a child with COVID-19. Author and historian David Perry, who lives in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area in Minnesota, is one of them. 

Perry's 14-year-old fully vaccinated son developed a fever two weeks ago and went to bed early that night. "The next day, he also had a fever, so we decided to get an over-the-counter COVID-19 test," Perry tells Yahoo Life. It was positive. "We were in disbelief because he was vaccinated," Perry says. "Also, it's not like we had gone to Lollapalooza. We hadn't been in crowded indoor spaces." 

Perry's son also has Down syndrome, which puts him at risk for severe COVID-19. "Down syndrome is one of the highest comorbidities," Perry says. "That was scary."

The rest of Perry's family — his wife and 12-year-old daughter, both of whom are fully vaccinated — tested themselves and got negative results. Still, he says, "we started quarantining right away." 

While Perry says most of the family felt "pretty good" at first, things quickly changed. "By Sunday night, the adults felt lousy and, on Monday, our daughter had a high fever and not great oxygen levels," he says. Perry took his daughter to the ER, where she tested positive for the virus. 

"I do think the fact that we're all fully vaccinated with the mRNA vaccine helped," he says. "There has been nothing terrible and nothing scary. But the adults are very uncomfortable. Once it was in the house with my son, it just spread."

Now, Perry says, his family is "doing better," adding that his wife is still experiencing uncomfortable symptoms, which include an ongoing cough, extreme fatigue and loss of smell. "My joke has been that having COVID and needing to care for kids with COVID is very poor planning," he says. "This wasn't the plan I would have come up with."

Jimmy Parker, a pastor in western North Carolina, tells Yahoo Life that his 7-year-old daughter started showing symptoms of COVID-19 on Friday, shortly after the family had to cut short a mission trip with their church due to several members testing positive for the virus. "We were kind of expecting it," he says of his daughter's illness. His 10-year-old daughter developed symptoms not long after, and Parker's wife, who is not vaccinated against COVID-19, is also sick. They all tested positive for the virus on Monday.

"My youngest was hit the hardest," Parker says. "She had a high fever, was lethargic and had no appetite, which is super uncommon for her." He also said his daughter experienced body aches and difficulty breathing. His oldest daughter was "up and down" for about three days. "Her fever would be high and she'd lay around, only to feel better," he says. "Now all she has is a stuffy nose." Parker's youngest also doesn't have detectable symptoms.

Parker, who had COVID-19 in November and has not tested positive this time, says his wife "is the worst right now — she has a fever, extreme body aches and digestive issues." 

He offers this advice for parents going through a similar situation: "Just keep an eye on them and don't panic. If you overreact, they're going to overreact."

Author and chef Josephine Oria, who lives in Pittsburgh, tells Yahoo Life that the most difficult part of her 17-year-old son's having COVID-19 in January was quarantining. "I took notice one Saturday when he seemed to lay around on the couch all day," she says. "He kept telling me he was just really tired. During the day, he seemed to develop a cold and headache. I didn’t suspect much until the following day when he told me at dinner he hadn’t been able to taste his food all day."

Oria moved her son to a guest bedroom above her garage to try to protect the rest of her family and had her son tested: He was positive. (Vaccines weren't authorized for his age group at that point in time.) She says she was "concerned" for her son because he has asthma, and she was also worried about his mental health. "Being quarantined alone for 10 days at that age is a long time. We were fortunate that his symptoms stayed at the cold level for a couple more days before dissipating. His taste, however, took more than two months to return," she says. 

Nikki Elkins, co-founder of Clover Baby and Kids, who lives in the greater Philadelphia area, had a slightly different experience. Her family of five was tested for COVID-19 after a January exposure, and her nearly 3-year-old was the only one with a positive result — at first. "We got tested a few days later, and both my daughter and husband came up positive this time," Elkins tells Yahoo Life. "Because my daughter had zero symptoms, I was a bit calmer than maybe I would have been." 

Elkins says her daughter was "acting like herself" after her diagnosis but developed a high fever about five weeks later. "She was extremely lethargic," Elkins says. "We don’t know if it was related but it seemed odd."

But digital marketer Azza Shahid, who lives in the U.K., tells Yahoo Life that she was "very scared and shocked" when her 2-year-old was diagnosed with COVID-19 in November. "Hearing news about the effects it was having on people at moments made me panic about what it will do to my child," she says. Shahid's daughter developed a fever that was controlled with medicine, along with a cough. "My daughter is super active and always up to exploring, running and playing, but COVID caused her to be lethargic," Shahid says. "She would sleep most of the day due to the fever. It was very difficult to get her to take medicines. Even screen time did not cheer her up. She became cranky and would get upset about small things."

It's scary to think about your child contracting COVID-19, but there are a few things to keep in mind if it happens to your family, Dr. Danelle Fisher, a pediatrician and chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Yahoo Life. 

"We don't have any specific treatments for COVID, so we talk about supportive care — things like acetaminophen or ibuprofen if they have a fever, aches, body aches, sore throat or headache," she says. It's also "very important" to make sure your child is well hydrated, she says, noting that water, apple juice and other clear fluids are good options. 

"Just have your child rest and keep a watchful eye out for any symptoms that they could be worsening, like chest pain or difficulty breathing," she says. (Babies and toddlers tend to develop vomiting and diarrhea, she says.) At the same time, Fisher stresses the importance of protecting yourself and other members of your family. Try to keep your infected child in one bedroom and have them use one bathroom away from the rest of your household, if possible. 

"If you're vaccinated, I would still use a mask and quarantine because, unfortunately, people can get COVID even if they're vaccinated," she says. "But after 10 days, you can relax that quarantine."

If you have any questions during this time, Fisher recommends calling your child's pediatrician. And, if your child develops more severe symptoms, go to the ER. 

Perry urges parents to keep this in mind: "If you think your kid has COVID, get a test right away. Even if you've gotten to the point in the pandemic where you feel like you're not going to get the virus, know this: The game has changed."

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