What to Do If You're Diagnosed With Coronavirus as a Single Parent Without Backup
As a single mom, I've been nervous about contracting COVID-19. Experts weigh in on how to keep your kids safe if you've tested positive.
As a single mother by choice (SMC), I have been very concerned about what would happen if I contracted COVID-19. I have extremely limited child care options at my disposal, so leaving my 3-year-old daughter in the care of someone else if I get sick isn't really feasible.
I'm taking all the safety precautions I can—I have my groceries and medications delivered and have been avoiding leaving my house. However, I live in the same household with my brother, who is an essential worker for UPS.
Luckily there are ways single parents can manage if they get sick. Experts offer advice on the best practices for parenting with COVID-19.
Finding out you've tested positive for COVID-19 or even just feeling symptoms can be terrifying. But try not to freak out. "Keep your mind and spirit calm as much as possible when you first find out. This is not a death sentence for everybody," says Mary Ann Wolert-Zaromatidis, M.D., a pediatrician at ProHealth’s Port Washington Pediatrics in Port Washington, New York. Dr. Wolert-Zaromatidis, a mom of a teenage son, is following her own advice: She's just tested positive for COVID-19. Her parents both have the virus (they do not live with her) and her husband has begun exhibiting symptoms.
Remember, most people who contract COVID-19 do well. "They have a bad cough, maybe some diarrhea, body aches, fever, and thankfully they recover. Understanding this after hearing that you tested positive for the coronavirus will help you remain calm," says Jay S. Berger, M.D., F.A.A.P., chair of pediatrics at ProHealth.
That's especially true for kids. "Children do remarkably better with coronavirus. It's not universal, but the rate of serious complications in children is dramatically less than in adults," says Dr. Berger. He's rarely seen kids with serious complications; they mostly have a sore throat and diarrhea. "It comes and goes for the most part," adds Dr. Berger, who lives at home with his wife (also in the health care industry) and their two teenage kids.
Some people may find it helpful to avoid too much media consumption in order to keep calm. "Watch a little bit in the evening, maybe 15 to 20 minutes' worth—that's it," says Dr. Wolert-Zaromatidis. "Media is a very big anxiety factor for a lot of people."
Reduce the Risk of Contamination
If you've contracted COVID-19 or suspect you may have it, it's crucial to avoid passing it on to anyone who lives with you. This means making sure to keep your distance from loved ones even inside the house. Any contact with well family members when you are sick requires a mask, shielding coughs, hand-washing, and changing potentially contaminated clothing.
"I'm trying to shield all my coughs to inside my elbows, under the blankets, or hurry up and cover my whole face into my shirt on the inside so droplets won't go up in the air, in the case that my son is near me," says Dr. Wolert-Zaromatidis.
It's also a good idea to keep your distance if you are at risk of being exposed. Dr. Berger says he and his wife are constantly exposed at work. "We are a very mushy, huggy, kissy family and we basically haven't hugged our children in over a month," says Dr. Berger. Although he says he doesn't have any symptoms, his colleague, whom he works with closely, recently came down with the virus.
"When I come home, I go into the garage, take off all my clothes down to my underwear, spray them with Lysol, then run through the house and jump in the shower immediately. I leave the clothes in the garage for 24 hours and then I put them in the wash," adds Dr. Berger.
Neither doctor is worried about the virus being airborne, but both agree on frequently wiping down surfaces with disinfectants and washing your hands as much as possible for at least 20 seconds.
Both doctors recommend that sick people should ideally use their own bathroom. If that is not possible, wiping down the toilet seat and any other surfaces the person may have touched is necessary. Closing the toilet seat before flushing is also important as contaminated stool particles can land on other bathroom surfaces.
What to Do When Kids Need You
"It is realistically difficult to keep our kids away from us 100 percent of the time," says Dr. Wolert-Zaromatidis. And they often need our help for things like preparing food.
Older kids and teenagers are better able to take care of themselves, which makes it easier to keep your distance. "You can talk to them on the phone or FaceTime to help them," says Dr. Berger. That includes helping them find where things are in the kitchen so they can prepare food for themselves.
But if your kids are much younger, it's likely you will have to step in more with things like making them food. "Wear a mask while you're preparing it. Wash your hands really well and don't forget about keeping serving utensils clean," says Dr. Berger.
If you have an infant or child who needs constant attention, "try to get some relatives or really good friends to either take care of your kids or step in," advises Dr. Berger. How long should they stay in another's care? Both experts say at least a week and until symptoms have improved, that way parents are well enough to care for their children again.
If that's not an option, or you fear infecting another family member especially since children can be silent carriers, just do the best you can, again by using gloves, masks, and lots of hand-washing. “Our children are stronger and safer during this pandemic. It makes it a lot easier for us to care for them and ourselves when we are sick as parents," says Dr. Wolert-Zaromatodis.
As for breastfeeding if you have COVID-19, it’s not clear if the virus can spread through breast milk, although limited studies show it was not detected in breast milk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But experts say parents can continue to breastfeed by taking precautions and speaking to their health care provider first.
“I had a mommy who was beginning to feel coronavirus symptoms ask about breastfeeding,” says Dr. Wolert-Zaromatodis. “She had a newborn baby that was solely breastfed so I suggested she continue for as long as she felt strong.” Dr. Wolert-Zaromatodis recommends wearing a robe only used for breastfeeding, along with proper hand-washing, mask, and gloves for each feeding. You can also opt for formula or pump (as long as you wash hands before touching the pump and baby bottle and then cleaning them properly).
Ask for Help When Needed
Asking relatives and close friends to help is OK to do in a time like this, says Dr. Wolert-Zaromatidis. They can step in for the family by grocery shopping, cooking meals, and picking up medicine from the pharmacy. All items can be left outside the door. They can also help the children with homework virtually.
Parents should also have a plan in the event that they need to be hospitalized. They can possibly leave their children with family or friends that have already been sick with COVID-19; if that's not possible, then choose a younger, healthier adult like an aunt or uncle.
Speaking with Dr. Berger and Dr. Wolert-Zarimatodis vastly lessened my anxiety. I feel better prepared and more informed about what to do should COVID-19 hit my home. Thankfully, to date, I remain virus-free.