Saskatchewan NDP leader and family doctor Ryan Meili answered questions about the COVID-19 pandemic from the province’s children on Monday.
Also a dad of two sons, Meili said he knows first-hand that kids, like adults, are also in a wave of uncertainty as the virus spreads—they’re bound to the walls of their homes with less opportunities for play.
“Right now, kids are needing information and they’re dealing with the emotions of what’s going on here,” said Meili in the video, which was live streamed on his Facebook page.
“The more that adults can give them clear information, the more one: kids can feel reassured that we actually are working on this and we are doing everything we can, and two: it lets them know how they can help.”
Meili said he got the idea from the prime minister of Norway to do a ‘press conference’ where instead of reporters posing the questions, kids would hold the reins.
The video received over 100 comments of questions from kids ranging in age from two years old to pre-teenagers.
What is a virus? Is it like a germ?
Meili told kids watching that a virus is a “catch all” for something too small to be seen that can make you sick.
But it can’t live on it’s own, he explained.
“They need to have a host, they need to hitch a ride with something else: a bacteria, a plant, an animal, or in the case of COVID-19, on people.”
The Coronavirus is the virus itself, whereas COVID-19 is the particular illness that’s currently being spread across the world.
“Viruses aren’t supposed to be in our bodies,” he said, so our bodies try to get rid of it by coughing or sneezing.
“We have viruses that go through people all the time. Every time you get a cold, that’s a virus,” added Meili.
“The problem with this one is it’s brand new so it’s spreading fast, but it’s also making people sick in different ways because we haven’t been exposed to it in the past.”
Who can get the virus?
Many kids had questions about who, or what, can get COVID-19.
Can trees get it? asked a two-year-old. Meili said the answer is no, that trees along with any type of plant can’t get COVID-19.
Other children had questions about their pets. Meili said it’s unlikely that the virus will spread to your dog or your cat, but it’s not impossible. If someone is sick in your home, he explained, maybe get someone else to take care of them just to be sure.
Some were wondering if they have asthma or a cold, are they more vulnerable to getting COVID-19?
“These questions are good because they make us think about who is more likely to have a hard time with this new virus,” said Meili.
“The very good news for all of the kids watching today is that everywhere in the world that we’ve seen this virus, kids are affected the least. We don’t know exactly why that is,” he said, explaining it doesn’t seem to make a difference if the child has asthma or is already sick with the flu.
Older adults, such as grandmas and grandpas, are more likely to get COVID-19, especially if they have other health problems.
That’s not to say that kids can’t get it and pass it on to others, said Meili. It’s important that kids stay home too and that they wash their hands with soap and water while singing two rounds of Happy Birthday.
Why is every single sport I love cancelled?
Whether it’s basketball, lacrosse or hockey, sports events have been cancelled because they bring a lot of people together in one place. This makes it easier and faster for COVID-19 to spread, said Meili.
“It started with some players actually finding out they had the virus, and then people thinking ‘Wait, there’s hundreds of people that go to those games,’ so they can pass it on with the fans in the stands and the players themselves can pass it on during the game,” he said.
Then, they would travel to other cities and bring the illness to other players and fans, too.
“The players and the coaches and everyone who gives up so much by sacrificing their dreams for the season have really amazing leadership, so your sports heroes who are your sports heroes for how they play on the field should remain your heroes for the fact that they said ‘Hey, it’s time for us to put a pause on the season.’”
Can my mom let me play at the playground?
Another child asked if it’s safe to go to the playground.
It’s a tough one, Meili said. You may think it’s okay to go to the playground because you might be the only one there, but the virus can live on surfaces like metal, plastic or wood.
“You might, not knowing you have the virus, play on the play structure and then somebody else comes along an hour later (and) plays as well. They think they haven’t been in contact with anyone, but they could pick up the virus from you or you could pick it up from them,” he explained.
COVID-19 is also spread through droplets from sneezing or coughing, or through direct contact with someone like shaking hands.
‘Saskatchewan is an extremely strong place’
“The best thing we can do is share information,” Meili told the children. This means if you have questions, ask your parents. You can’t rely on what you read on the internet because it’s not always true.
“Saskatchewan is an extremely strong place. We live through tough winters. We live through things that are challenging all the time in our history. We’re the place that came out with medicare so everyone can go see the doctor regardless of whether they can pay or not,” he said.
“Just because we have to stay apart doesn’t mean we can’t work together.”