Coronavirus and Children

Some respiratory illnesses, such as the seasonal flu (influenza), put children at risk of serious health complications. Each year, the flu causes millions of illnesses, thousands of hospitalizations, and some deaths in children.

COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, has spread worldwide. It has caused millions of illnesses and hundreds of thousands of deaths.

COVID-19, however, appears to be affecting children at a much lower rate.

Children can get sick from COVID-19, but in much smaller numbers as compared to adults.

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How Many Kids Are Getting COVID-19?

A February 2020 report studied more than 40,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in China, where the disease began.

Of those cases, about 0.9 percent of illnesses came from children 9 years old or younger. Another 1.2 percent came from children and young adults between the ages of 10 and 19.

The disease usually causes symptoms like fever, cough, and shortness of breath. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) children usually show milder symptoms. Those include fever, runny nose, and cough. It isn’t yet known whether children with underlying conditions may be at higher risk.

COVID-19 also can lead to more serious health complications like pneumonia. The February 2020 report and other recent reports studied more than 1,000 COVID-19 deaths, none of which occurred in children 9 and younger.

The groups most at risk of serious complications are older adults and people with conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and lung disease, which can leave the immune system compromised.

How Can We Prevent Kids From Getting COVID-19?

Children may be getting sick from COVID-19 at lower rates than adults, but they still are at risk for catching and spreading the virus. If a child is showing symptoms such as fever, cough, and difficulty breathing, please contact a health care provider immediately.

If a child is displaying cold symptoms or had suspected exposure to another person with COVID-19, it’s best for them to not be around higher-risk people, such as older adults or people with underlying medical conditions.


The CDC offers important prevention recommendations, including:

  • Wash your hands: Use soap and water and scrub for at least 20 seconds. It’s especially important before eating, after using the bathroom, and after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose. If soap and water are unavailable, use a hand sanitizer that’s at least 60 percent alcohol. Bonus: You can teach your kids the “ABCs” – humming the “ABCs” can help you get your 20 seconds of scrubbing.
  • Avoid people who are sick: Avoid close contact (6 feet or closer) with people showing symptoms like coughing and sneezing.
  • Clean heavily touched surfaces: Sanitize areas like tables, countertops, doorknobs, phones, toys, and more. As appropriate, put washable plush toys through the laundry and follow care instructions.
  • Use a tissue when coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose: Throw the tissue away and wash your hands after using it.
  • Follow the CDC’s facemask recommendations: Children over the age of 2 years old should wear a cloth face covering in public. Children under the age of 2 should not wear a face covering.

Parents can also talk to their kids about COVID-19, explaining the situation and offering reassurance.

Children and Influenza (Flu) . Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Frequently Asked Questions and Answers: Coronavirus Disease-2019 (COVID-19) and Children . Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Zunyou Wu, MD, PhD; Jennifer M. McGoogan, PhD. Characteristics of and Important Lessons From the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Outbreak in China . Journal of the American Medical Association.

About Pediatrics

From nutrition to illnesses, from athletics to school, children will face many challenges growing up. Parents often will make important health care decisions for them. We hope to help guide both of you in that journey. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh ranks No. 8 on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll. All 10 of our specialties rank nationally. UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital is a longtime national leader for women and their newborns. We aim to provide the best care for your children, from birth to adulthood and beyond.