Chicago-based pediatrician and mom Dr. Payal Adhikari weighs in on all things coronavirus, from entertaining kiddos at home to knowing when to visit your doctor. Read on to discover her helpful tips and be sure to tune into Monica + Andy’s Instagram live story every Monday and Thursday at 12on CST as Dr. Payal Adhikari will be back to answer your questions live and share her perspective on COVID-19 updates.

*Recorded via IGTV on March 19, 2020. Please note facts and recommendations are evolving daily.

Background on Coronvirus (COVID-19)

It’s a new virus that started out in animals and made its way to humans. Right now we have no immunity to it, which is why it’s so widespread and burdensome. It’s also extremely transmissible which is why the number of cases keeps going up. That number is going to continue rising as testing is becoming more available. At the moment, the testing is limited to super high-risk patients—those who have been in contact with a confirmed virus or have traveled to one of the high-risk countries recently and are exhibiting symptoms.

How To Protect Yourself

The main key is to isolate and stay at home as much as possible. That’s the number one way for us to combat and limit the transmission of this virus. Secondly, wash your hands! We all hear about using hand sanitizer, but it’s not the best thing to do. Washing your hands with soap and water for at least twenty seconds is much more effective in killing those germs. Remember to wash surfaces like countertops and high-touch areas as this virus can live for days on surfaces.

Will testing become widely available soon?

Yes. Testing is limited by the amount of kits we have and those will be coming more readily available so I would continue to check local resources if you have any concerns and wish to be tested. For us in Chicago, those sites include Rush, NorthShore, Advocate and the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH).

Can we go to the park?

I would say no. This virus can live on surfaces and it loves the cooler weather so if you go to the park and you’re touching things that have been touched beforehand, you could possibly transmit the virus.

We live in a high-rise building, is it worth taking the elevator to get outside?

This disease is not airborne. If the elevator is very crowded, wait for the next one. Try to get in there alone if you can and use your elbow or gloved hand to press the elevator buttons. This virus can last for days, maybe even weeks on certain surfaces so on things like stainless steel that’s not porous, it can last for many, many days.

Remember to take those gloves off before you touch your face. Another way to limit the transmission is by not touching your face. Generally what happens is that people touch things that have the virus on them, then touch their face inadvertently and that’s how the virus gets in and causes an infection.

What can we do with our kiddos at home?

It depends on their ages. For the older kiddos who are in school full-time and have lots of schedules, I recommend creating a schedule for them at home. It gives them a sense of expectation and how the day is going to go. Create an hour-by-hour schedule so they know when it’s time to learn, when it’s time to play and to eat. This way, they’ll have expectations for themselves and for you.

For the little ones, it’s really about keeping yourself sane. If a schedule helps you, great. If a schedule stresses you out, don’t feel like you need to do it. I love baking with my kiddos—it’s a great time for them to focus and learn. We use a digital scale so they can start to learn their numbers, different ingredients and how to measure. Board games are also great. A lot of schools are doing online teaching—be sure to thank your teachers as it’s a lot of hard work for them to prepare.

Here in Chicago, our wonderful Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum has a great offering. There’s a newsletter on their homepage that has a ton of different subjects kids can learn on—things like how butterflies eat. It’s a great way for them to learn about nature without having to go outside.

Is it a bad time to try and get pregnant?

As of now, no. I don’t think this is going to be similar to Zika in that coronavirus will likely not cause any birth defects. The line of coronaviruses is basically your common colds. You’ve probably been exposed to certain coronaviruses, but this one is new and that’s why people are having such adverse reactions.

Is it safe to go to the grocery store?

You can go, but limit the number of people who go with you. Have a list so you know exactly what you’re looking for and have alternatives to the list, so you can minimize your time in the store. If you use a cart, be sure to wipe it down or wear gloves. As soon as you get out, wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before you touch your steering wheel.

I have my son’s 2-month check-up, should I still go?

The two-month visit involves a lot of vaccines that they haven’t gotten yet so I would say keep that visit. Call your doctor’s office and see if they are doing anything to stop the spread of this virus. For example, our office has stopped doing well visits with sick visits. In the morning, we’re doing all of our sick visits, cleaning the office and then keeping our well visits limited to the afternoon. Call your doctor and see if they can do something like that for you. Avoid sitting around the waiting room and see if they can immediately put you and your kiddo in a clean room. The two, four and sixth-month and one-year visits are the most important.

How much TV and Screen time is acceptable for kids?

You get a free pass during this time. If you need screens to keep yourselves and your kiddos sane, it’s fine. Everyone needs to survive so go ahead and start some screen time. Be aware of what your kids are watching. There’s so much good information on TV these days and even shows like Daniel Tiger can teach kids good lessons. Give yourselves a break and don’t stress too much about it. As much as we’re getting frustrated with being inside, kids are getting frustrated too, so we have to remember that they need a little bit of quiet time where they can let their minds wander.

Is it OK to go outside for fresh air?

At this point, the virus is not airborne so going out into your backyard and playing is fine to do. Don’t share toys or get together with the neighborhood kids, but if you need to go onto your patio or roof and get some fresh air, it’s totally fine. Wash your kids’ hands as soon as they come in the door with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and while they’re outside, remind them not to be touching their face.

I have a seven-week old baby with mucus congestion. What can I do in hopes of avoiding the doctor’s office?

I recommend over-the-counter nasal saline drops. These are salt-water drops that you can put in your baby’s nose to help loosen up the mucus. This usually loosens it up enough so that baby is either swallowing it or sneezing it out. If baby is having trouble feeding or breathing, you can use the bulb suction to help clear it away. You can also steam up the shower and let them breathe in the steamy air.

How often should I clean toys?

Twice a day. The good news is this virus is killed pretty easily with standard household cleaners or in the dishwasher. Remember to clean things like light switches, remote controls and doorknobs. When you’re cleaning countertops, let the spray sit for 5-10 minutes before wiping it off.

If I become sick, is it safe to breastfeed and pump?

The data on that is still TBD. The latest recommendations that I’ve heard from our hospital is if you are coronavirus-positive, you are not supposed to breastfeed your baby, you could potentially be doing express breast milk. These are not concrete recommendations, so if that becomes an issue, speak to your OBGYN or your pediatrician.

IMG_6745 2

About Dr. Payal D. Adhikari, MD

Dr. Payal is a graduate of Northwestern University (BS) and Chicago Medical School (MD). She completed her pediatric residency at Rush Children's Hospital, is board certified in Pediatrics and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She resides in Chicago with her husband and two little ones and is a regular digital contributor to Monica + Andy and teaches the Monica + Andy Newborn 101 class to expecting + new moms in Chicago.