As the days get warmer, we itch to be able to get outside, enjoy the weather and prepare for the summer. We would like to return to normalcy and for our children to have fun, even though we are still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the vaccine rollout throughout New York state, and the country overall continues, we must still follow the familiar rules for reducing virus transmission in certain settings: wearing masks, social distancing and handwashing/disinfecting. The latest CDC guidance outlines masking requirements for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. In New York State, as of May 12, 2021, all people age 12+ are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Thinking about what is safe for your children so they can enjoy a long, healthy summer?
Dr. Hildred Machuca, pediatrician at Northwell Health Physician Partners/Westchester Health, offers information and guidance on some summer activities that kids can participate in.
Physical activity is key to supporting our children’s physical and mental health needs, as well as our own as parents. The safest exercise is done outside. This is because of better ventilation and the ability to physically distance from others if needed. The safest activities are walking, running, and hiking.
Team sports come with an increased risk because they require contact and close proximity between players. Contact sports make it difficult to maintain social distancing and high intensity activities can present increased risk of getting and spreading COVID. Intense breathing can cause respiratory droplets to travel further than they would normally. The length of time in close contact with other players is another factor. We all recognize that it is important for children to socialize and interact, so before ruling an activity in or out, check with the team coach to see what measures are in place to help decrease the risk. Steps such as minimizing equipment sharing, cleaning equipment after every use and hand hygiene prior, during and after play is crucial. Each player should have their own face mask, towel, water bottle, and hand sanitizer all labeled with their names. Training, practices and competitions should be held outside. Teams made up of local teammates are safer than bringing children from different geographical areas together, and minimizing travel is also important. The latest guidance regarding masks should always be followed during team sports, and it is critical to remember that masks should not be worn for some such as swimming, wrestling and gymnastics where they can be a choking hazard. With many team sports on hiatus for much of last year, please make sure your child is up to date on their physical and any other clearances to play.
For young kids at the playground, hand hygiene and cleaning toys- especially if shared, are critical.
If you’re considering going to the beach or pool, it is best to go earlier or later in the day when it may be less crowded. It is a good idea to maintain as much distance from other swimmers as possible, and if unvaccinated, wear your mask out of the water.
Camping as a family is a safe activity. It is best to take your own food and utensils and cleaning supplies. If you are camping with family members outside of your pod, or other families, make sure tents are six feet apart. Continue to follow guidelines for hand hygiene and masking.
What about day and sleep away camps? Is it possible for kids to attend camp?
It is possible, and depends on each family’s individual preferences and risk-tolerance. Last summer there were successful day camps. How did this happen? Mitigation measures such as wearing masks, social distancing, frequent handwashing, daily exposure and symptoms screening, and temperature checks, small cohorts such as less than 10 campers and 1 counselor as well as scheduled cleaning and education of staff and parents were the answers.
The same thing can happen at sleep away camps. A successful camp in Maine used a “multilayered” approach. This was made up of pre and post testing and quarantine, daily screenings and temperature checks, mask wearing, hand hygiene, maximal outdoor activities, small cohorts and environmental cleaning and disinfection. Other measures of note were staggering dining periods, dining outdoors, and cohort-specific programming. Early identification of infection and how they manage this is also key.
It takes a lot of effort from the camps and a joint buy in from parents to try to keep camps as safe as possible so kids can attend. We strongly encourage you to reach out directly to a camp you’re considering for your child to learn the specific measures they will employ to keep campers and counselors safe and healthy. A comparison of multiple camps may help you put different options in perspective.
What about travel?
The CDC and experts discourage travel until an individual is fully vaccinated, which is two weeks after the last dose of an FDA-authorized vaccine. Remember, masks are still required on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transporation. Deciding to travel or not comes to down to your personal decision on whether or not it is worth it for your family, especially if your child is high risk or others in the household are. If you do decide to travel, traveling as a pod in your car is the best option. You can do day trips. If you go to amusement or water parks or any other destination, you want to avoid crowds and maintain social distancing – especially while on lines. Outdoor activities are always preferable. If you decide to fly, flights should be direct and as short as possible. Wear a double mask and practice good hand hygiene throughout the trip. We are also now dealing with variants, and traveling spreads them from one area to another, which makes it more difficult to get the pandemic under control. The expectation is that as more people get vaccinated, hopefully we can all get back to life as once knew it.
If you are considering any of the above summer activities for your child or your family, please check for the latest CDC guidelines, as they can change rapidly as the pandemic continues to evolve. We are all hopeful that they continue to change in a positive direction!
The pediatricians at Northwell Health Physician Partners/Westchester Health are here to help you keep your children and family healthy and safe while enjoying the summer. Find a pediatrician near you at https://www.westchesterhealth.com/pediatrics/providers
By Hildred Machuca, DO, FAAP, pediatrician at Northwell Health Physician Partners/Westchester Health
*Updated May 21, 2021