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Commentary—Answering Parents Questions About Summer Vacation and COVID-19

06/18/2020 Catherine M. Soprano, MD, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University; Attending Physician, Diagnostic Referral Division, Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children

We’re all navigating tremendous uncertainty amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As different regions explore reopening parts of society and school years come to a close, many parents are facing tough decisions around what exactly their children’s summer vacation will look like and how they’ll keep children safe while slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

Parents have countless questions when it comes to keeping kids safe this summer and what activities they should and shouldn’t allow their kids to participate in. Unfortunately, the difficult answer to almost all of these questions is “it depends.” Making the best decisions amidst this uncertainty depends on where the family lives, a child’s specific needs, the family’s specific situation, and a host of other factors. Ultimately, parents weigh all these factors to determine what they consider an acceptable risk not only for their children but for the whole family, each of whom may be affected if a child brings home an infection.

Each family’s definition of acceptable risk is going to be a little different and will likely evolve over time. According to a recent survey conducted by The Merck Manuals, nearly nine in 10 parents (88%) said they’ll allow their children to take part in some public or organized activities this summer. As parents navigate decisions around specific activities, here are answers to some common questions parents have that will be helpful in determining their acceptable risk for different situations when it comes to COVID-19 and their children.

What overall precautions should I take with my children in light of COVID-19?

Researchers are still exploring if children are more or less likely to transmit COVID-19 than adults. For now, a good rule of thumb is to have children follow the same protocols as adults. Children over two should wear masks in public and practice social distancing. They should wash their hands regularly and stay home whenever they’re sick, just like adults. They should be particularly careful and limit interactions with individuals at higher risk, including people 65 and older and those with underlying medical conditions. According to the Merck Manuals survey, 89% of parents will make their children wear a mask at organized or public activities once/now that restrictions due to COVID-19 are lifted in their area.

Should I let my child attend summer camp?

Different kinds of camps present different levels of risk. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a detailed breakdown of different summer camp setups and the risks they pose. Small groups of campers who are from the same geographic areas and participate in primarily outdoor activities with social distancing, for example, present a lower risk than larger groups from a broader region engaging in activities with less social distancing. Many overnight camps are not up and running this summer, but they represent an increased level of risk compared to day-programs. Only 19% of parents surveyed plan to let their children attend day camp this summer, and just 15% are OK with sleepaway camp.

Should I let my child go to the public pool?

For many kids, the public pool is an iconic part of summer vacation, whether that’s at camp, the local pool or the neighborhood YMCA. Coronavirus can’t be transmitted in water, so there’s nothing inherently more dangerous about swimming. However, all the same social distancing and cleaning considerations apply. Still, just three in 10 parents surveyed said they would allow their children to swim in a public pool this summer in light of COVID-19.

Should I let my child play organized sports?

About 28% of parents will let their children do organized sports this summer. To help parents weigh the risks, the CDC issued detailed guidance for youth sports as well. Parents should think about the full scope of exposure that comes with the sport, including sanitizing shared equipment and spaces and exposure to kids from other areas. Drills at home with family members are lower risk than full competitions between teams from different geographic areas.

Should I let my kids play with friends in the neighborhood?

There is almost certainly an opportunity for kids to play outside with friends and stay safe. For small groups of kids – one or two other children – playing outside, the risk is quite low. This is especially true for kids who interact together on a regular basis and whose parents are in touch and following similar guidelines. About half of parents surveyed said they’d let children to play outdoors with neighborhood friends this summer. Playing indoors at a friend’s house does present more risk, due to less ventilation and more surfaces that could carry the virus. Still, 46% of parents said visiting a friend’s house indoors is OK this summer.

Is it safe to bring my child to the doctor or hospital if they’re sick or injured?

This is a significant concern for parents. At this point in the COVID-19 pandemic, most hospitals and healthcare spaces are safe, thanks to extensive screening and testing. Parents should call before the visit to ask about safety precautions as well as updated protocols. However, in most cases the hospital or office will proactively reach out to patients and parents 24 to 48 hours before the appointment. Certainly, parents should not delay seeking care for a child who is seriously injured or ill.

Additional Resources for Parents to Make Informed Decisions

As families explore these questions further, the discussions and decisions don’t have to happen in a vacuum. Families should reach out to their pediatrician and other medical professionals to talk about their specific situation and the individual needs of their child. Parents should have detailed conversations with camp administrators, coaches, other parents, and anyone who will be responsible for safety protocols regarding their children. Parents should use these conversations to develop their specific level of acceptable risk. Parents may be OK with letting their child attend a summer camp with thorough, well-communicated protocols versus one with a less detailed plan, even if the day-to-day activities at the two camps are similar.

What’s more, there are a number of resources parents can use to access the latest recommendations and research and make informed decisions about their children’s actions and COVID-19. County and state websites are a good place to start for local guidelines. Parents surveyed were most likely to check local and regional government authorities to help decide about organized or public activities this summer for their area. Other leading resources for parents include media and news outlets, social media and the CDC. For broader best practices, the CDC has a number of specific resources for parents, as does the American Academy of Pediatrics. The Merck Manual has also created a dedicated resource hub for consumers offering COVID-19 information and resources. 


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