Published on in Health Tip of the Week
As summer gets into full swing, parents and caregivers everywhere are confronted with new and unusual questions thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and the drastic changes it has brought to our lives. With some restrictions being lifted but infection rates still rising in the U.S., many parents are asking, “How do I make safe choices for my family this summer?”
From beach trips and play dates to swimming in public pools and choosing childcare options for the summer months, CHOP experts are offering science-based advice on ways families can avoid unnecessary risks while still having some summer fun.
Here, we round up a few key topics related to the “summer of COVID,” with factors to consider and tips from our experts to help you make decisions that are right for your family.
Should my child wear a mask?
- Children under 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, and those who are unconscious or otherwise unable to take one off should not wear a mask.
- Children 2 years and older should wear cloth face coverings when in public settings.
- Masks should fully cover the mouth and nose, fitting close to the skin, but not too tight that it is uncomfortable and prevents breathing.
- For younger kids, try using a favorite stuffed animal to model how to wear the mask.
- Don’t scare children about the need to wear a mask, but just point out that it’s another way to keep everyone safe.
Is it safe to schedule play dates?
- Social connections, whether over the internet or in person on small play dates, are important.
- One-on-one play dates pose the lowest risk.
- Let children play together outside, in small groups.
- Keep the time period limited, e.g., a short session outside in the afternoon, rather than a sleepover.
- Have kids do an activity where they move around or stay socially distant, rather than stay in one place for a while, e.g., a bike ride or a hike where kids can separate in space and wear their masks.
- Take the basic safety precautions researchers know are effective in limiting the spread of the virus, whether someone has symptoms or not. These include physical distancing, wearing masks made of cotton or another light, breathable fabric, and washing hands regularly.
- Create a social compact to make sure all families involved in group outings are engaging in the same safety measures.
- Allow older children and teens to use social media to keep connected with friends.
Can we go to the beach this summer?
Hitting the beach is a relatively low-risk activity, provided you:
- Don’t go to the beach or boardwalk when they are crowded.
- Don’t let your kids play with kids they don’t know.
- Bring masks with you.
Are pools safe?
“The thing that’s inevitable with swimming, and I think particularly with kids swimming, is the amount of splashing, sputtering and spewing of respiratory droplets, because sadly, that is the way the coronavirus has spread,” says Susan E. Coffin, MD, MPH, attending physician for the Division of Infectious Diseases at CHOP.
With that in mind:
- Swimming in a backyard pool with siblings or a few close friends is safer than in a large community pool.
- Chlorine may not prevent coronavirus, adds Coffin. “The concentration of chlorine in pools, public or private, is rarely constant, and we often struggle to maintain adequate concentrations. So, I hesitate to assume that just because the pool is supposed to be chlorinated, that it would provide us complete killing of a respiratory virus like coronavirus,” she says.
- Sprinklers and sprinkle parks are another good option for cooling off.
Should I send my kids to summer camp?
- Avoid sleep-away camp.
- If you choose to send your child to day camp, make sure groups are kept small and kids are kept together throughout the day and spend most of their time outdoors.
- Make sure the camp staff encourage kids to wash their hands often and clean surfaces throughout the day.
Read more: Deciding if summer camp is right for your child.
Safe summer vacations: Is it safe to travel?
- Travel in a private automobile, when possible.
- If you must use a train, bus or plane, try to keep your distance from other travelers, wear face masks during the trip, and wipe down armrests or seat handles with disinfectant wipes.
- Be aware of how coronavirus is affecting the area you’re traveling from as well as the one you’re traveling to, and what local health authorities are saying about community spread. More outbreaks could mean you have a higher risk.
- Know where the nearest hospital is where you could get care if you need it.
Are small gatherings or picnics OK now?
- Going to a small party with family or a few friends is OK.
- Meals are hard because to eat, masks have to be off. Have outdoor meals, don’t share food items and don’t sit too close together.
Day care, babysitters and more: Making decisions about child care
- Make sure your child’s day care is implementing proper safety measures before letting your child return.
- Staff should wear masks to reduce the exposure of the children to adult respiratory droplets.
- Check that staff and children attending day care are screened daily for signs of illness.
- Ensure that enhanced cleaning practices are taking place.
- If you hire a babysitter, ask about their social network and what safety precautions they are taking.
- Make sure your babysitter is comfortable with the safety measures you’re implementing in your home and understand how they’re maintaining their own safety when they’re not in your home.
Make sure your kids are up-to-date with their required vaccines. It’s understandable to be nervous about going to healthcare facilities, but don’t delay care! CHOP Care Network practices are open and have set up procedures to allow healthy children to be vaccinated during morning appointments, while treating sick children later in the afternoon, all while observing social distancing guidelines to prevent spread of the coronavirus and COVID-19, the disease it causes.
What else do I need to know this summer?
At the end of the day, families should:
- Weigh the risks of exposure to COVID-19 against the benefits of finally interacting with others.
- Figure out your comfort level with the activities mentioned above.
- Make decisions that take into account the health and safety of the people you love.
- Balance risk by not taking on a lot of big exposures all at once.
If you’re interested in reading more, check out some recent news stories featuring our experts about navigating the summer of COVID-19:
- Huffington Post: What's 'Safe' — And Not — For Kids This Summer
- Inquirer: CHOP Doctors’ Prescription for a Safer Summer: Masks, Off-Peak Beach Visits, Lots of Hand Washing
- Philadelphia Magazine: 10 Ways to Keep Your Family Safe From Coronavirus This Summer
- NBC10: CHOP Doctor Shares Tips on Keeping Your Kids Safe While Outside
- KYW Newsradio: How to Assess COVID-19 Risk in Activities You Choose this Summer
- WHYY: What’s Fun and Safe for Kids this Summer? Some tips for parents
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