Yale experts offer families tips for a safe 2020 summer
A highly unusual school semester has ended, and the coming summer will be unlike any in memory. Families are forgoing backyard barbeques and block parties; cities and towns have cancelled carnivals and Fourth of July festivities. Travel carries extra risks, and many more families are facing financial hardship as a result of job loss.
But there are ways to enjoy the summer safely. Here, global health expert Dr. Marietta Vazquez, professor of pediatrics, and infectious disease investigator Dr. Jaimie Meyer, assistant professor of medicine (AIDS), offer advice for families and children.
The outdoors is the safest place to be “because there is better air flow than in indoor spaces and people are better able to socially distance outside,” according to Meyer. Getting outside is also crucial for physical and mental health. “Physical activity is very important for the body and mind,” Vazquez said, noting that people can take advantage of parks and green spaces. It will still be important to maintain distance from people outside your quarantine unit, she said.
Swimming (and splashing around) — whether in pools, lakes, or the ocean — can be done safely, Meyer said, provided people stay the recommended six feet from those outside their family units. The water itself does not pose an additional health risk, she said, because “the virus does not transmit in water.” Social distancing is especially important in water because people probably won’t wear masks when wet.
Taking public transportation
The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads through droplets from person to person; transmission happens more readily when people are close together. Travel “at times that are less crowded if possible,” Meyer said. Wear a cloth face covering, she added, and, whenever possible, choose an empty row rather than sitting next to someone else. After getting off the bus or train, use hand sanitizer and avoid touching your face, Meyer said.
Outdoor sports are generally safe vis-à-vis the virus, the experts say, because airflow is better than indoors. But different sports carry different risks. “Basketball and wrestling are higher contact sports than baseball and tennis,” Meyer said. “Parents and caretakers should take this into account when thinking about what sports kids can play this summer.” Kids can’t comfortably wear masks when playing sports, she said, but “they should be encouraged to wear face coverings and practice good hand hygiene if they are waiting on the sidelines.” She also advised young athletes to avoid shared equipment (like batting helmets or water coolers) and shared spaces (like dugouts) wherever possible.
Using day camps
Many day camps have been permitted to reopen with certain restrictions in place — outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — to minimize the likelihood of virus transmission. “There are ways to do camps that maintain the health and safety of the kids and staff,” said Meyer. Parents should look for the following safety measures: restricting camps to groups of 10 children or fewer; frequent bleaching and disinfection of shared spaces; regular temperature screening for campers and staff; and diligent mask-wearing by staff. Vazquez said camps should have a protocol in place for when a child is discovered with symptoms. “If someone gets sick,” she said, “what will they do?” Knowing that a camp is taking appropriate steps to protect kids is critical, Meyer said: “If the camp is advertising ‘business as usual,’ turn and run.”
Forming friend groups
Many parents are considering small playgroups instead of camps. Meyer urges caution. “I get that question a lot,” she said. “If we’ve been isolated and our friends have been isolated, why can’t we mix?” The reason why it’s not recommended, she said, is that people tend to report inaccurately the degree to which they are self-isolating. “Only you know what your own behavior is,” she said. But, she said, parents could conceivably create small playgroups that follow camp guidelines: adults wear masks, disinfect regularly, screen for temperatures, and require kids to wash their hands often.
With communities across the country looking for recreation, fresh air, and socialization, bike-riding is experiencing a kind of renaissance. According to Meyer, biking is one of the safest summer activities. “In some ways, biking is safer than going for a stroll,” Meyer said. “It’s easier to maintain distance.” A note of caution, however: If people are biking vigorously and breathing harder, she said, “droplets can disseminate further than six feet,” warranting extra physical separation.
Scheduling physicals and vaccinations
It’s the time of year when parents typically bring kids to the doctor’s office for annual physicals and vaccinations, but fear of COVID-19 exposure has caused many parents to skip visits and vaccinations. Vazquez and Meyer recommend that parents be proactive and continue with visits. “As soon as doctors’ offices are open, call and make an appointment,” said Vazquez. (The American Academy of Pediatrics also advises parents to continue well-child visits during the pandemic.)
The CDC found that vaccination rates fell sharply beginning in March, from 42% to 73% compared to the weeks prior to the pandemic, depending on location. This is a troubling trend, said Vazquez. “Just because we have COVID-19, doesn’t mean other infectious diseases have taken a break.”