Opinion: School-Age Kids Should Know How to Cover their Coughs in Public Places

Teressa P.

Children can be unsuspected COVID carriers, but parents can teach them to cover their coughs for COVID and flu

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Sick eggsKaren Mandre

Our children are innocent and our most valued treasure. Yet, a lot of them can be unsuspected COVID carriers. Some children can have COVID and not have symptoms. Most of my family and friends with children who were infected said the kids had minor cold or flu-like symptoms for 24–48 hours and were back to normal. In contrast, parents and older relatives had longer recovery times and serious symptoms that required medical treatment or hospitalization.

Most kids who are old enough to know about COVID or the flu probably don’t think about it (like most adults) unless it impacted them, a family member, or a friend. I think it’s to have a quick “cover your mouth when you cough” chat as we all venture back to school, work, family gatherings, and events.

The saying “what does not kill us makes us stronger” does not apply to COVID. Unfortunately, there is a horrible second phase that the world is just learning about and the medical community remains confused and unable to adequately treat and it’s called long COVID. Long Covid can include long term lung damage, blood clots and other neurological and circulatory issues.

I need to go to the grocery store. However, I just realized I’m terrified due to my last shopping trip. Before I go on with this story, please know that I’m a parent and former teacher — so I get it. We all love our children and we don’t want to restrict them in any way, but as a person with long COVID, I can’t pretend that COVID isn’t a real and deadly virus and it’s dangerous for people like me and have compromised immune systems.

If you don’t believe in COVID — replace the word with the flu and please read on.

Unfortunately, as we venture back into the world we are forgetting that people are still getting sick and dying from Covid. Last Saturday’s trip to the grocery store proved to be a sobering and scary experience as I watched the flood of unmasked people and their children in sports uniforms crowd the store and literally cough several times some without even bothering to cover their mouth.

Parents and caregivers, I beg of you to remember while your child may bounce back quickly from COVID or the flu most older, immunocompromised and/or long COVID sufferers can’t… Our children could potentially and unknowingly infect several people as they innocently talk and touch things.

I wanted to say something but as a parent, I know that I would have gone into Mama bear mode if someone had said something to me as a parent or my child but what should people do if they’re allowing their children to walk around unmasked, clearly sick and coughing without covering their mouth?

It puts people like me and a horrible position because we don’t want to upset or offend someone and potentially cause a scene, but something needs to change.

To be fair, Saturday is a popular shopping day for most parents who work a traditional workweek. Perhaps I should choose a different day which I will from this point on. However, parents should know that our beautiful children especially our younger ones can be asymptomatic unsuspecting carriers of COVID and going in public places coughing could spread the virus and lead to hospitalization or worse.

I won’t present a problem without a solution. So my solution is I’ll plan my shopping trips midweek, right when the stores open to avoid crowds and the awkward and precarious situation of being beside unmasked parents and children (whether they’re coughing or not).

I have to admit that as an older empty nester I forgot about the Saturday morning hustle — the brief time when my child was playing sports. This is a normal family routine: you get up early in the morning have a quick breakfast, run to practice, and then errands. Nine times out of 10 this will include grocery shopping. The world is now completely open and that was my first time seeing a packed grocery store on a Saturday morning.

I hadn’t seen a grocery store that busy in years — prior to COVID.

I’ve had to unfortunately limit my work choices because of this. I recently took a job where masks were optional and it was a wake-up call that perhaps my career has ended in at least live instruction. I know several educators and educational administrators in K through 12 as well as higher education who are dealing with sporadic in-person instruction due to class or departmental infections. Some parents were infected and other times it was a sick child or a child who had no symptoms.

Let me be clear, no one can definitively tell who gave what to whom and a lot of people are vaccinated and boosted which might explain why most of the people that were reinfected didn’t end up in the hospital. Yet, all of them got sick and lost time from work and family.

I don’t envy parents of young children, it’s hard. We want our children to feel free but we also don’t want to teach them to be selfish and so self-absorbed that they ignore a real and present danger of COVID and other communicable diseases that can be prevented by covering your mouth when you cough and hand-washing.

There is a lot of confusing messaging, and I won’t get into the politics of it I just know that COVID is real and has completely changed my life and almost took it a year ago. Consequently, this isn’t a laughing matter for me or my family because I, like most Americans can’t afford to miss work.

My hope and prayer is I appeal to the better nature of the average person. God bless those who are vaccinated, boosted or have great immune systems where they have never had COVID and probably will never experience the worst of the infection. I would not wish COVID on anyone as I stated I’m still healing and I’ve lost a wonderful loved one. I’ve watched COVID destroy so many people’s lives through long and short-term infections, complications, and death.

So parents with school-age children, I beg of you please keep some masks handy especially if your child is sick or coughing and remind them that coughing could make someone else sick — not to mention it’s just impolite and poor hygiene not to cover your mouth with a tissue or elbow. Here’s a how-to video.

I don’t want to add one more thing to parents’ “to-do” list, but this literally is a matter of life and death.

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Philadelphia, PA
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