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‘COVID-19! How can I protect myself and others?,’ WHO issues new guide for youth

The World Health Organisation (WHO) in collaboration with Smithsonian Science Education Center an the InterAcademy Partnership (IAP) has developed all new ‘rapid-response’ guidelines for youth aged 8-17 — COVID-19! How can I protect myself and others? The guide, which is based on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, aims to help young people understand the science and social science of COVID-19 as well as help them take actions to keep themselves, their families and communities safe.

The guide includes updated research, activities, quotes from scientists and frontline public health officials, and physical and emotional safety tips on COVID-19. It also integrates inquiry-based science education with social and emotional learning and civic engagement.

“We are immensely grateful to WHO, the IAP, our colleagues at the Smithsonian and other senior project advisors and translators for their perspectives and technical support in ensuring the science is accurate,” said Carol O’Donnell, director of the Smithsonian Science Education Center. “We are also grateful to the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation for their support during the development of this module. This work represents the power of collaboration and working closely with others across the globe, even during a time of physical distancing.”

Task 1: What is happening in the world right now?​

This project, COVID-19! How Can I Protect Myself and Others? will help you, and your community, understand the science of the virus that causes COVID-19  and other viruses like it. It will help you to figure out how this virus is impacting or affecting you or may impact you in the future. It will help you to understand the actions that you can take to keep yourself and your community safe.

In this project, you will discuss how people feel about the virus. You will investigate the science of this virus. You will explore public health measures, which are things that are happening in your community or may happen soon to keep COVID-19 from spreading. You will take action to support health in your community.

Task 2: How can keeping distance from others help?

“COVID is spread through respiratory droplets. These droplets travel from one person to another, including from our hands. Think of a typical day in your community. You greet multiple people with handshakes, hugs, and kisses. You buy things at the store using money that has passed from person to person. You are constantly interacting closely with people and things. These are all opportunities to spread COVID. Limiting these interactions and contacts is what reduces community transmission.” – Cassie Morgan, Kuunika Sustainability Coordinator, Cooper Smith, Malawi​

Task 3: How can covering our noses and mouths help protect us?

“Social distancing is really important for COVID-19 because you can be transmitting (spreading) infection while still looking and feeling healthy…we don’t have those behavioral cues that we tend to rely on. ‘Oh, this person is sniffling or is sneezing or seems to have a high fever, so maybe I should keep my distance.’” – Shweta Bansal, PhD, Associate Professor of Biology, Georgetown University, USA​

Task 4: How can washing our hands help protect us?

“We constantly touch our face, so it is easy to imagine how our hands become the virus’s main way into our body through our nose, eyes, and mouth. Washing our hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer is a very powerful defense.” – Cassie Morgan, Kuunika Sustainability Coordinator, Cooper/Smith, Lilongwe, Malawi​

Task 5: How is COVID-19 impacting families and communities?

Emotional Safety: In this task, you will think about what might happen if someone in your community or your family contracts COVID-19. This may be a scary topic. If possible, work through  this task with a parent, caregiver, or other trusted adult so you are not alone in thinking about these difficult topics.​

Task 6: How can staying informed about the problem help?

“Leadership must come not just from government and scientists but also from people who are trusted sources of information in that specific community.” – Dr. Lisa Cooper, John Hopkins University, USA & Ghana

Task 7: What actions can I take right now?

Think about the tasks on Physical Distancing, Hand Washing, Covering Your Nose and Mouth, the Physical Safety tip on how it is sometimes safer to use and study a model than the real thing, and the Emotional Safety Tip on making sure not to judge those who may have COVID-19. These tasks helped you learn how to slow the spread of COVID-19 and how to look out for your emotional well-being during this pandemic. You have also learned about the social, economic, environmental, and ethical perspectives associated with COVID-19 from scientists like Maryam and Anne.​

“Through this project, the Smithsonian Science Education Center makes science exciting and approachable for children and youth all over the world and encourages them to learn by doing” said Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist at WHO. “With all the myths and misconceptions out there, it is important for children and youth to understand the nature of this pandemic and what can be done to prevent future pandemics from happening,”

“It is so important for children—wherever they are in the world—to develop their scientific understanding and rational thinking,” said Professor Volker ter Meulen, president of IAP. “Only by being able to make rational decisions based on the best science and evidence can any of us adjust our behavior to keep ourselves and our families safe from infections such as COVID-19.”

The Smithsonian Science Education Center will disseminate the information to youth worldwide in collaboration with WHO, IAP, educators, and museum and research center networks. The guide is free, will be available to youth in more than 15 languages, particularly African and Asian languages, and can be found at

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