In many places around the country, folks are starting to emerge from their cocoons. States are “reopening” their economies and easing up on social distancing requirements. And let’s face it, we’ve all got more than a touch of quarantine fatigue. Because complete abstinence doesn’t work in the long run (even though it is the safest when it comes to sex and coronavirus), we need practical advice and guidance on which activities are safe, which are risky, and which are somewhere in the middle.
While states have different requirements, guidelines and safety measures, the science behind coronavirus risks and precautions remains the same regardless of where you are. Regardless of what a politician tells us about reopening, the fact remains that the novel coronavirus is a highly transmittable virus that causes the serious (and sometimes fatal) disease of COVID-19. Some activities are riskier than others, and we’re getting into the grey area where there are lots of questions and confusion. We’re about to move from quarantine fatigue to decision fatigue, so we looked to medical and public health experts to answer some of parents’ frequently asked questions as we move into the next phase of the coronavirus pandemic.
Are playdates okay?
Playdates — or as my tween and teen call them now, “hang outs” – are a top concern for many parents. As Dr. Pat Remington — director of the preventive medicine residency program at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health and former associate dean — told the Wisconsin State Journal, playdates are a “high-risk situation,” but much like abstinence-only sex education, just saying ‘no’ won’t work. “We know people are going to be doing this,” he said. “You should understand the risks and the consequences.”
Simply put: avoiding playdates (or hang outs) is the safest option. But if you are going to let your kids interact with other kids, understand the risks and take steps to stop the spread. Experts suggest acting as if all kids are infected. Keep them separated, have them wear face masks, and disinfect all toys after use. Before the playdate, ask the hard questions: has anyone in their family been sick? Has anyone been in contact with someone with COVID-19? Are there any medical conditions that could make things riskier?
Can we go to the playground?
“The playground is like the Wild West compared to the controlled play date,” said Dr. Chin-Hong told the New York Times. Best to avoid for now.
That said, if the playground has an open grassy area where social distancing can be practiced, it’s probably a pretty safe place for kids to run around and use up energy.
Can I hire a babysitter or nanny?
With lots of parents called back into work, child care is a huge concern for many. It can be helpful to look at your state’s guidelines for day care when considering hiring a babysitter or nanny. Also, it’s important to hire someone who you trust to be taking safety precautions when they are not in your home. Some experts even suggest that parents require babysitters to wear a mask and/or putting them through a “coronavirus I.Q. test” before they’re hired.
Is it okay to travel?
While the CDC still recommends people stay home as much as possible, especially in the case of leisure travel, plenty of people are getting more than a little stir crazy and want a change of scenery. When considering summer travel, instead of following the “stay home” rule, it might be wise to follow the “stay as close to home as possible” rule.
International travel is generally not permissible right now, and it’s unclear when it will be open again. Some states, including Alaska, Maine, Hawaii and Rhode Island, are also requiring all out-of-state travelers to self-quarantine for 14 days. That said, health officials, including the CDC, continue to indicate that the risk of infection on airplanes is low, though you’ll definitely need to maintain social distance and wear a mask.
It’s important to understand that every interaction you have while traveling – every gas station, grocery run, hotel room, etc. – increases the risk of infection for you, your family, and other people in that area.
Bottom line: If you really want to travel, it’s best to go with only your immediate family and stick close to home. Renting a house a couple hours away is probably the safest option.
Can we go swimming?
“Swimming by itself is not a risk,” Dr. Nasia Safdar, medical director of infection control at UW Health told the Wisconsin State Journal. “We don’t expect there to be waterborne transmission of COVID.”
The bigger concern, she said, is the proximity to other people and the surfaces you may come in contact with while at a pool or beach. If you’re at an empty beach or pool, and you bring your own chairs and towels, most health experts agree that it’s a fairly low-risk activity.
Of course, water safety is always a top concern so don’t get lax about drowning risks just because you’ve been consumed with coronavirus risks for the past several months.
Can we have a backyard BBQ?
The answer: it depends. If you are gathering outside, it is much safer than inside, experts say. “There’s no question the risk of transmission is lower outdoors,” said Dr. Remington.
Of course, it’s important to remember that you are also coming into contact with everyone others at the gathering are coming into contact with, whether it’s at work, the grocery store, or other social gatherings. So it’s best to keep your social circle small. If you’re generally only gathering with one or two other families, and they are only gathering with your family, the risks are much lower. If the gatherings include older kids and adults, who can theoretically follow social distancing guidelines, it is safer than if toddlers or preschoolers are involved.
Yard visits and small backyard gatherings are obviously safer than larger neighborhood BBQs. Try to stay outside as much as possible with six feet distance and wear face masks. If someone needs to come inside to use the bathroom, make sure they wash their hands thoroughly and then also disinfect bathroom surfaces.
What general safety precautions can/should we take?
It is still a good idea to stay home as much as possible. If you want to support local businesses, there are ways to do that in a safe way. Continue getting take-out instead of visiting a local restaurant. Buy a gift certificate to a local salon to use at a later date. Keep paying your housekeeper even if they aren’t cleaning your house. And order online with curbside pick-up for retail purchases instead of browsing the aisles.
If your state permits small gatherings of people, it’s still best to avoid gatherings with elderly folks or anyone with an underlying medical condition. If you do see an elderly family member, maintain social distance, wear a mask, and avoid hugs and kisses.
If you’re sick or experiencing any COVID-19 or flu-like symptoms (even if mild), contact your doctor to see about getting tested immediately and stay home.
Whatever you do and wherever you go, wash your hands. Then wash them some more. And teach your kids to do the same. Stock up on Purell and Lysol wipes, and use them more than liberally.
And remember: just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Reopening doesn’t mean “free for all.”