Anyone who’s ever watched their toddler eat cat food will know that small children are rarely sticklers for good hygiene. Whether they’re stroking car tyres, shoving peas up their nose or sneezing right into your eyeballs, germaphobes they are not.
This is a particular drawback amid Covid-19. It’s not easy trying to persuade a three-year-old that it’s currently inadvisable to push a lift button. Or that licking the handle of a shopping trolley is imprudent at best. Bottom line: if you’re game to take your kids out in public then you’ll wind up using a shit-load of hand-sanitiser.
But while you continue fighting this losing battle – germ warfare in the most literal sense – here is a dollop of good news. “As the epidemic has evolved, it seems increasingly clear that kids are not heavily affected,” says Emily Oster in the Parentdata newsletter.
Health experts have suspected for a while that the disease is rare among kids and the symptoms relatively mild. But the latest data backs that up with hard stats. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention – the leading national public health institute in the US – is tracking hospitalisation rates by age.
They found that “hospitalisation rates last week in children 0 to 4 were 1.1 per 100,000 or about 300 total in the US. For kids aged 5 to 17 it was 0.3 per 100,000 or about 160 children,” Oster says.
At the time of writing, the number of deaths in America stands at more than 45,000. But since February 1, Oster says, only three children under the age of 15 have died from the virus.
Just because not many kids are dying of being hospitalised doesn’t, of course, mean that they can’t still contract and transmit coronavirus to an older, more susceptible person. So this isn’t a reason to become more complacent. But viewed purely from a parental perspective it’s heartening news nonetheless.
Compare Covid-19, for example, to something like polio that mainly affects children under five years old, is wildly contagious and has a horrific track record – according to the World Health Organisation, one in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis. Can you imagine facing that as a parent?
For me, that’s worth bearing in mind, chiefly because I’m a big fan of George Monbiot’s formula for happiness, When the author was diagnosed with prostate cancer he inadvertently stumbled across three life principles that he reckons can keep you afloat in tough times. You can, and indeed probably should read them, in full here. But assuming you can’t be arsed, they are:
1. Imagine how much worse it could be, rather than how much better.
2. Change what you can change, accept what you can’t.
3. Do not let fear rule your life.
Number one applies now more than ever. Subscribing to the “well, it could be worse” line of thought may seem facile and trite. Then again, things often become clichés because they’re true.