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Last updated November 23, 2020. 3 minute read

Here is some guidance for how to talk about COVID-19

How we talk about coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) matters. Communicating the right way can get people to adopt and apply safety practices that help slow to spread of the virus as well as quell fear. But the way we talk about the virus and COVID-19 needs to be tailored for the situation. Here’s how to change your language when you’re talking with your kids or discussing the virus at work.

Linnea Zielinski Written by Linnea Zielinski
Reviewed by Dr. Rachel Kwon, MD

How to talk about the novel coronavirus with your kids

There’s a lot of information to stay on top of with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). That’s why it’s important to assess what your kids already know about the virus instead of launching into what can be an overwhelming amount of information. A great place to start may be asking what they know about the coronavirus and how they’re feeling. What they’ve heard, the accuracy of the information, and how that has informed their feelings and fears around the situation is all going to shape the conversation that happens.

It’s important that you don’t dismiss their fears, even if they’re based on incorrect information. Recognize your child’s fear, then provide the real information if they’re ready for it. If they are too scared, it may not be the right time to talk about the virus but rather their fear. You can come back to discussing the novel coronavirus when they’re feeling more secure and less scared.

Proper hand hygiene is recommended as one of the first lines of defense against the virus. Talk with your kids about why handwashing is important, when they should do it, and how to do it properly. Giving them instructions they can relate to, such as telling them to wash their hands while singing “Happy Birthday” twice instead of saying 20 seconds, can also help them understand and apply the information (When and How to Wash Your Hands, 2019).

How to talk about the novel coronavirus with coworkers, bosses, or employees

Your company may have guidelines for handling events like those we’ve seen with COVID-19. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has suggested guidelines for businesses and employers so that they can implement strategies quickly and effectively. This requires open communication from all areas of the business.

If you’re an employee, you should be open with your boss and company about any possible exposures to COVID-19. You should also inform your supervisor if you start to feel sick. If you wake up feeling ill, tell your supervisor and ask about work from home policies. Additionally, ask about sick leave or work from home policies if someone else in your family is ill.

If you’re an employer or manager, encourage people to work from home if they feel any symptoms of respiratory illness and to practice proper hand hygiene and coughing and sneezing etiquette. This may require making sure that sick leave policies or work from home policies are flexible during this time. Any employee who has had a recent COVID-19 exposure, who shows up sick, or who starts to feel sick during the weekday should be encouraged to go home (Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019, 2020).

If you find out that you have been in contact with a person who tested positive for coronavirus, it is important to take a number of steps to prevent further spread of the virus to others. The CDC recommends that you self-quarantine by staying home for 14 days after your last contact with a person who has COVID-19. It’s also important to monitor yourself for symptoms of COVID such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath. If possible, stay away from other people to ensure that you do not spread the virus to others, especially people who fall into high-risk categories who might become very ill if they contract COVID. These categories include people over the age of 65, people with preexisting breathing conditions like asthma and COPD, and people with underlying immune conditions (CDC, 2020).

If you yourself test positive for coronavirus, it’s important to self-isolate. This means staying away from people, even in your own home if possible, in order to ensure that they do not become infected as well. Once you have been diagnosed with coronavirus infection, or if you suspect you have the virus, even if you haven’t been tested, the CDC recommends remaining in isolation until 10 days have passed since your symptoms first appeared and you have been fever-free for 24 hours (without the use of fever-lowering medications). Also, your other symptoms should be improving. It’s important to note that some symptoms (like loss of smell and taste sensation that some patients report) can persist for months after you are no longer infectious (CDC, 2020).