COVID-19 (coronavirus) Featured Wellness

Should I stay away from my runny-nosed grandchildren?

Granny blowing a kiss through FaceTime or Skype

Q. I love my grandkids and I’m often called upon to babysit them – which I love to do. I’ve heard they can carry COVID-19 with mild symptoms. But kids always have snotty noses and colds! What should I do to protect myself? It’s hard to say no to grandkid cuddles.

A. You are right. Kids get lots of colds. Some studies suggest that children under age two get between 8 to 10 colds per year, preschoolers get about 9 and kindergartners a monstrous 12 colds a year. After that, the average is about 2 to 4 (for older kids and adults). 

The thing is, what’s mild to a child might not be mild to you. A cold or flu in a kid might slow them down for a day or two, but for a grandparent, the same virus could knock you down and put you at serious risk.

People over age 65 are at greater risk of complications from colds and flu like severe respiratory issues, bronchitis or pneumonia. That’s because as we age, it gets more difficult for our bodies to fight off viruses.

For COVID-19, early research suggests that the older you are, the more at-risk of serious complications you are. That would put lots of grandparents and great grandparents in the “most vulnerable” category.

In short, it’s always best to stay away from people who are sick, and that includes any runny-nosed grandchildren.

Recognizing that’s not always possible, here are some other tips to try to minimize your risk. 

Reduce physical contact

It’s hard to resist those hugs and kisses, but it’s important to try. Make up a secret wave, have fun with the foot-shake, or do an elbow bump to greet and say goodbye, instead of a hug and a kiss. If your grandchild is coughing or sneezing, maintain a distance of two metres if you can (I know this is extremely hard if you are the caregiver.)

Wash your hands and keep your hands (and theirs) away from your face

Viruses need a way in. Good hand hygiene with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer can reduce the chance of viruses hitching a ride to your eyes, mouth, nose. Clean your hands straight away if you wipe someone’s snotty nose (first, toss the tissue in the garbage), if you touch any surfaces or toys, before and after using the washroom (or helping someone go, or changing diapers) and before and after you eat. If you aren’t able to wash your hands right away, keep your hands away from your face. Practice this year-round, in sickness and in health. While many viruses like COVID-19 spread when someone has symptoms, some viruses and bacteria are around and spreading before symptoms show.

It’s OK to say no

It’s not easy to break plans or say no to your children or grandchildren. Remind your children that it’s safer and better for all of the family if you stay apart when someone is unwell. It would be better to be apart for a few days while the child is sick rather than weeks if you catch something and get seriously ill.

As a family, come up with a caregiving back-up plan if you provide the childcare.

FaceTime or phone them with all your love — and a promise of treats and snuggles when everyone feels better.

About the author

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Natasha Salt

Natasha Salt is Sunnybrook's Director of Infection Prevention and Control.