Published on in Health Tip of the Week
As COVID-19 vaccination rates rise, many people have looked to the coming summer with hope for a return to normal activity. The reality, however, is that the pandemic is far from over. While recent data shows that fully vaccinated people can begin to resume some normal activity, many people remain unvaccinated, and a vaccine for children younger than 16 has yet to be authorized for use. It’s therefore critical to keep public safety measures in mind as you make your family’s summer plans.
From beach vacations to public pools to summer camp, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) experts weigh in on your most frequently asked questions and offer science-based advice on how to avoid unnecessary risks while still having much-needed summer fun.
Is it safe to travel?
After spending more than a year cooped up at home, most of us are itching for a vacation. But is traveling safe?
According to the CDC’s most recent travel guidance, it is safe for fully vaccinated people to travel within the United States without testing or self-quarantining. Because scientists are still learning how vaccines will affect the spread of COVID-19, however, it’s important that even fully vaccinated individuals continue to follow safety measures in public, including wearing a mask, practicing physical distancing, washing hands frequently and avoiding crowds. (One update: CDC guidance now says fully vaccinated individuals don’t need to wear a mask outdoors except in certain crowded settings and venues. Here’s the latest guidance to help you choose safer activities.)
If you plan to travel with unvaccinated family members, you can reduce your risk of COVID-19 infection by following these tips:
- Choose short road trips in a private vehicle with only members of your immediate household or fully vaccinated people. Bring your own food for fewer stops along the way.
- If you have to travel by plane, try to take a flight with no layovers, and go straight to the gate — skip the food court and gift shops
- Avoid long-distance bus trips and cruises
- If possible, choose a private rental home over multiunit lodgings like hotels
- Consider visiting a fully vaccinated family member’s home
- Choose takeout, drive-thru or curbside delivery over restaurants or self-service buffets. Even better — bring your own food.
- Pack extra supplies, like handwipes and sanitizer, and use them regularly. Make sure to wear your mask at all times and bring backups, plus a plastic bag to store wet or dirty masks.
- Stay informed about infection rates in the area you’re traveling to and be prepared to change plans if they increase
Can my child have play dates or go to the pool?
Social connections, whether over the internet or in-person, play an important role in a child’s development, and the isolation and loneliness caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have had a detrimental effect on many children’s mental and behavioral health.
When deciding whether play dates are appropriate for your child, however, it can be helpful to weigh the risks of exposure against the benefits of finally interacting with others. If your family’s risk- and comfort level allows for in-person interactions, these tips can help minimize the risk of infection:
- Host one-on-one play dates rather than gathering in groups
- Keep the total number of contacts your child has (outside of your immediate household) small. Remember — more people means more risk.
- Keep play dates outdoors, if possible
- Encourage activities that require kids to move around and support physical distancing, such as a bike ride with a friend
- Make sure both children wear masks, both in- and outdoors
- Schedule play dates outside of mealtimes and avoid shared snacks
- Wash hands or use hand sanitizer regularly
- Swimming in a backyard pool with siblings or a few close friends is safer than a large community pool
- Sprinklers are another fun option for kids who want to cool off
Should I send my child to summer camp?
Summer camp is an important experience for many children. This summer, it may be particularly important because children have experienced a profound disruption in their social, developmental and educational experiences. The following guidance can help provide a framework for you to consider as you decide if attending summer camp is right for your child.
In general, camps are less likely to pose a significant risk of infection if they:
- Have small groups of campers that stay together throughout the day and over the course of the camper’s experience
- Emphasize non-contact sports (tennis and running) and activities (drama and crafts)
- Require physical distancing whenever possible
- Hold activities (including meals) outside
- Expect campers to wear masks
- Encourage all children to clean their hands frequently
- Minimize the use of shared equipment and frequently clean equipment that must be shared
- Avoid large group gatherings and field trips
- Train camp staff to follow CDC guidelines on cleaning and disinfection of the camp environment
- Require daily at-home screening of staff and campers for respiratory symptoms
- Implement policies that emphasize the importance of staff and campers staying home if they have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, have any respiratory symptoms or signs of other illness, or if they have a fever
Other general practices to consider when planning for summer camp include:
- Plan transport to and from camp to avoid crowded buses or cars
- Remind your child to keep their mask on during carpool or any other shared transport
- Provide a daily lunch for your camper to avoid shared food
- Consider alternative summer plans if your child or a member of your household is at increased risk of serious outcomes due to COVID-19
- Be prepared to keep your child home from camp if they develop any symptoms of illness
Keep in mind that if your child is at risk of developing severe illness from COVID-19, your doctor may recommend they not attend camp or participate in other summer activities. Discuss your child’s health and medical history with your doctor to determine what is and is not appropriate. Ultimately, your family’s summer plans should be based on your child’s health, and your family’s and community’s circumstances.
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