The riskiest and least risky activities you can do with kids this summer, according to an infectious-disease expert
- As schools come to a close,
children's schedules will become even more unstructured.
- Parents have to decide which activities to permit, and which to hold off on, as coronavirus risks persist.
- Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist, shared which common summer pasttimes are risky — or not — for children.
Hikingis one of the least risky activities available, and while pools themselves are relatively safe, packed ones aren't.
Many parents are likely feeling relieved that school is coming to a close, since they'll no longer have to oversee their children's remote classes, while balancing their jobs and other responsibilities.
But there's also a looming dread about how they'll fill up their children's days over the summer in a safe, and fun, way while concerns around the coronavirus pandemic persist.
While there are still many unknowns about how the
What's particularly challenging about these questions is that every family is weighing different variables, and there are no absolute right or wrong answers.
"We are looking at the guidelines, but they're at what I like to call '10,000 feet,'" said Dr. William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. "We don't have clear answers. But we have coping mechanisms."
That's why each family has to consider their own risks and needs, and recognize that no activity is completely safe.
"The moment you walk out your front door, you're assuming some risk," Schaffner said. "The trick is to keep it as low as possible, but still have a good time."
Schaffner talked to Insider about common summer activities, the level of risk each one presents, and what parents should take into account before pursuing them.
Sleepaway camps could create a relatively safe 'bubble'
Many sleepaway camps have already made the tough decision to shut down this summer due to the risks associated with the coronavirus. But some are opening, and will be taking a number of precautions in order to protect against the spread of the disease.
Schaffner noted that sleepaway camps may be relatively safe because they can potentially build a contained "bubble." They could test campers and staff prior to the start of camp and then strictly monitor who's allowed in and out. Camps can reduce the risk of spreading the disease by staggering meal times, putting fewer campers in each bunk, and not allowing family members to visit.
But before committing to a sleepaway camp, Schaffner advises parents to investigate each of the measures the camp is taking.
"Do they screen the counselors when they come in? Do they take their temperatures? Is there a symptom checklist? Might they even screen them by testing before they come to camp?" Schaffner said of the questions parents should ask. "Those are all things that can contribute to a more safe environment."
Sending kids to day camps puts children at a high risk
Unlike sleepaway camps, day camps present much more risk because the community can't be monitored as closely. Children go home every day, where there's inevitable variation in precautions against the disease, which then puts staff and campers at heightened exposure.
The other issue is that the camp can insist that parents conduct temperature checks and screenings, but there's no guarantee that parents won't send a child on the bus even when they're exhibiting symptoms.
"Just like daycare, some parents will allow a child with a runny nose or a sore throat to go because they have to go back to work," Schaffner told Insider. "Parents want to have their children taken care of during the day while they're earning a living."
Playdates pose some risk
While organizing playdates comes with some risk, there are ways to minimize them, Schaffner said. For parents who want to be especially cautious, it's best to choose a select few friends for your children to spend time with and limit it to that group. Playing outdoors is better than playing indoors.
The most important thing to keep in mind, Schaffner said, is for parents to have open dialogues with the parents of their children's friends.
"You have to be clear about who's coming, how many children, do we all know them, are we on the same wavelength?" Schaffner said of what parents should discuss with one another.
By "wavelength," Schaffner's referring to families taking the same protective measures, including wearing masks. Parents shouldn't be ashamed to call off a plan if they learn that another family isn't being as strict, Schaffner added.
He also recommends being up front about asking if any children have symptoms and to take each child's temperature, "just to make sure they're in good
Schaffner also recommends keeping groups of children to between five and eight.
Going to a playground is relatively safe, as long as you sanitize and practice hand hygiene
While it's possible to contract the coronavirus after touching an infected surface, the disease is predominantly transmitted from person-to-person.
"Inanimate objects probably play a much lower role in the transmission of this virus than we first thought, so that offers a level of ease outdoors," Schaffner said.
That extends to the playground, according to Schaffner. Parents just have to be "more meticulous" about wiping down swings and jungle gyms before a child uses them and about frequently washing their, and their children's, hands (or using hand sanitizer). He recommends going through this process soon after arriving to the playground and doing it again about every 20 minutes.
While it's challenging, Schaffner also recommends that parents encourage children to maintain social distancing. This can be enforced by having children spend more time on swings and by creating space while waiting to go on slides and other equipment.
Going to the beach is OK, as long as you separate from others
Families that enjoy the beach can put that on the list of relatively safe activity options. It's most important to take precautions at points when you run into other groups of people, Schaffner said. That includes the parking lot, the restrooms, and the food stands, he said. At those places, Schaffner said to make sure to wear a mask and to practice social distancing.
Schaffner also recommends setting up an area on the sand that's removed from other groups.
"Try to do things so that you're not as close to people as you might normally be," he said.
However, he added, it's fine to remove a mask once you've settled in and it's not necessary to swim with a mask on.
A swimming pool itself is safe, but not if it's packed with people
The coronavirus isn't transmitted in water, which makes swimming an optimal activity. But the risk goes up when a swimming pool is packed with people, Schaffner said.
"If the pool is all jammed up, I wouldn't go near it," Schaffner said. "That's exactly what you want to stay away from."
As is the case with the beach, Schaffner said the chairs around the pool should be spaced out, and people should practice caution around the parking lots, restrooms, food stands, and anywhere else people gather in groups.
Traveling by car is safest, but if you're going to take a flight, take precautions
After being cooped up for months, families understandably want to enjoy a change of scenery. But getting from one place to the next will present numerous risks.
Traveling by car is the safest option, since there's minimal exposure. Schaffner just advises families to be careful when making stops. For example, when pulling over to get something to eat, he suggests going to a drive through, over sitting in an eatery.
When flying, Schaffner suggests being careful at all points throughout the process.That means wearing a mask at all times, wiping down a seat, and wiping tray table when boarding the airplane.
The key to visiting grandparents is setting ground rules in advance
Keeping a distance from grandparents is hard on everyone. To minimize the risks, it's important to establish ground rules before visiting. That means explaining to children that it's important to wear masks and minimize contact. Schaffner suggests having the kids hug their grandparents just one time at the beginning and at the end of the visit.
"Will you spend a lot of time on the porch, where it's breezy or are you going to be inside? Will you share a meal? How will it be prepared?" Schaffner said of questions to pose beforehand. "Have those phone conversations in advance, so you don't have to make snap decisions and be panicked."
Ideally, before seeing each other, everyone involved will have had few other interactions with people outside the household and will have engaged in social distancing. Getting tested for the coronavirus about a week before a visit is also helpful.
Hiring a babysitter presents some risks, which is why setting expectations is important
Anytime a family introduces a new person into the unit, there will be new risks introduced as well.
One way to minimize risk is to hire someone who already had the coronavirus and have them test for antibodies. It's not foolproof, but it's helpful. "That indicates past exposure and probably that they're now virus-free and can't spread it," Schaffner said.
If that's not possible, Schaffner recommends at least taking standard precautions. That means finding out how seriously they've been taking social distancing, asking them to take their temperature, and having them fill out a simple symptom checklist before coming over.
Hiking is one of the least risky activities to do this summer
Hitting a hiking trail allows families to be active outdoors without being in close proximity to other people. Schaffner said that briefly passing a stranger on the trail presents a low risk.
For an added measure of safety, families should investigate trails that don't get as crowded. When starting a hike, Schaffner said families should, as with other activities, take extra precautions in the parking lot where people may congregate.
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