Is It Safe For Kids To See Their Grandparents During The Coronavirus Pandemic?

As the outbreak spreads, here's what social distancing looks like among grandchildren and older loved ones.

The news on children and the new coronavirus has, up to this point, been pretty reassuring. Just this week more evidence emerged from China that children seem to get milder symptoms than adults — although experts warn that the notion that children tend to simply be asymptomatic carriers of the virus who are somehow “immune” to it is likely an overstatement.

But what has been made very clear, so far, is that children play an important role in the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. They’re basically little vectors, which is why millions of kiddos are now home with their parents or caregivers, rather than in school.

It has also been made very clear that adults over the age of 65 are at a much higher risk of getting really sick from the coronavirus.

So what does that mean for families left wondering whether their kids can safely see their grandparents, or for those who have multiple generations living under one roof? Here’s what we know so far.

For now, video chat is probably the way to go...

Some confusion has surrounded what “social distancing” actually means in practice, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued specific guidelines for older adults, telling them to take extra steps to put space between themselves and any other people if COVID-19 is spreading in their community. Visits to nursing homes have been restricted nationwide.

One reason why older adults are at higher risk of serious complications — or death — from COVID-19 is that they’re more likely to have at least one chronic condition. But it may also have to do with changes to the body’s immune system as we age.

So, if possible, it’s probably best to play it safe.

“For the time being, it is safest to limit kids to virtual visits with grandparents, either through video calls or over the phone,” Dr. Rob Darzynkiewicz, chief medical officer of Hazel Health, told HuffPost.

... Especially because it can be really hard to know if a child is carrying the disease.

Though it’s not true that children are immune to the coronavirus, more and more evidence does seem to suggest that otherwise healthy children tend to experience milder symptoms. And while that is good news in terms of the outcomes for children, it can make it difficult to know if they’re “shedding” or emitting the virus through coughing, nasal secretions, or even their feces.

“Current data does suggest that it may be possible to pass along COVID-19 to others during the incubation period, when someone has been exposed but has not yet developed any symptoms,” Darzynkiewicz said.

So again, if you can avoid get-togethers with your children’s grandparents — even if you’re being safe about other social distancing measures, and taking pains to limit hugs and physical contact — it’s probably a good idea.

“Although only visiting grandparents virtually is unfortunate in the short term,” Darzynkiewicz said, “we hope that in the long term this will help to keep our most vulnerable populations safe and healthy.”

If kids and grandparents live under one roof, hand washing is essential.

Three-generation households are on the rise in the U.S., which can make this whole issue particularly complex for many families.

“It’s best to make sure that everyone in the house is washing their hands as often as possible, and avoiding touching their face,” Darzynkiewicz said. “This is by far the best way to prevent transmission of COVID-19.”

Of course, if anyone in the household suspects they have contracted the virus or is confirmed to have COVID-19 after being tested, that requires immediate steps be taken to isolate the affected individual or individuals. Talk to your health-care provider immediately about what this looks like — and make sure any older adults in your household also consult with their care team.

Together — but also, apart — families can help keep grandparents healthy and safe.

Keep up with the latest updates on the coronavirus at our live blog.