Coronavirus: As schools close, are the kids a risk to their grandparents?

Photo by Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas from Pexels
Photo by Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas from Pexels

As coronavirus spreads through Italy, schools have been closed and kids are sent home, and working parents are left with few options when it comes to childcare.

That's where Italian grandparents have found their time to shine, as they step in as childminders.

At greater risk

However, research has shown that while the virus seems to have only a mild impact on children, it is potentially fatal to those with compromised immune systems, and the elderly. 

So far, the number of older people dying from Covid-19 is significantly higher. And people with conditions often associated with age, such as heart disease, diabetes, respiratory problems and hypertension are also at greater risk. 

'It is really a problem'

The Italian government has urged the elderly and infirm to stay at home, but "Practically speaking, if there weren’t the grandparents, it would have been a big mess," an Italian man named Roberto told Time magazine. "Those families where both the mother and the father work, it is really a problem."

And no doubt we will have the same issues as schools and daycare centres across South Africa close in a bid to halt the spread of the virus which has to date infected a growing number of South Africans. 

Grandparents in SA

Regardless of school closures, a significant portion of South African families involve a grandparent raising grandchildren. Reasons for this include teen pregnancy, working parents, substance abuse and incarceration. 

Around 12% of households are headed by grandparents, says a 2016 report.

Another report reveals that there has been an increase in the phenomenon of grandparents as caregivers over the past 20 years in South Africa. 

In 2011 the General Household Survey study showed that only one in three South African children live with both biological parents, and 61% of those children not living with either parent reside with their grandparents. 

Protecting the elderly

Research shows that spikes in flu viruses in pre-schoolers results in increased mortality in the elderly soon after. This means, simply, that kids infect the elderly, and the elderly are more vulnerable to falling fatally ill from common illnesses.

This is a solid reason to vaccinate your kids, but until a Covid-19 vaccination becomes available, it's safe to say that if this new strain of the coronavirus were to cause an epidemic in South Africa, the grandparents would be at risk. 

Does this mean you should keep the kids away from their grandparents? 

Not necessarily. 

In general, as with all illnesses, it is a good idea to keep an infected child away from anyone who might catch it, including vulnerable grandparents.

If your child is showing any of the typical symptoms, keep them at home, and away from vulnerable people such as the elderly or immunocompromised people, such as those who may have AIDS, cancer, heart conditions or diabetes. 

Symptoms include:

  • Sudden onset of fever
  • Cough
  • Difficulty breathing

It is important not to panic.

It is also best to follow health advice to avoid contracting the virus yourself, and to protect your kids from catching it.

Measures include social distancing (staying away from large groups of people), washing your hands thoroughly and often, and avoiding touching your face wherever possible. 

Dr Carol Bosch, a local GP, says it's important to teach kids to wash their hands properly, for at least 20 seconds, and to encourage them to cough or sneeze into a tissue which is then discarded. 

While grandparents are not perhaps at greater risk of catching the illness from the kids in particular, they are at greater risk of serious consequences if they do fall ill.

If you suspect your child is sick keep them at home, she urges, and call the General Public Hotline on 011 386 2000, which operates from Monday to Friday.

Some handy links to help your family stay healthy, and to explain the situation to your children:

What to tell your kids about coronavirus, and how to help them stay safe

WATCH | Kids, learn how to wash your hands properly with these catchy tunes

Eight tips on what to tell your kids about coronavirus

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