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University of Washington

Disaster, recovery researcher on the safest way for kids to interact during pandemic and school closures

7-Apr-2020 3:40 PM EDT, by University of Washington

With kids out of school and daycare across America, many for the rest of the school year, parents are wondering whats safe for their children to do while protecting them from infection by the novel coronavirus. And while the top priority is keeping children—and especially vulnerable people—safe from COVID-19, it's also important to provide enriching experiences, physical activity and opportunities for socialization.

Meghan McGinty, an affiliate assistant professor in the Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences at the University of Washington School of Public Health, provides tips and cautions for parents to consider. McGinty is experienced as both a disaster researcher and emergency responder. She is also teaching a course on the COVID-19 pandemic response at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Here are McGinty’s tips and cautions:

Playdates - What should parents consider if they want to get their children together with other children?

"Whatever activities families do during this time, it's essential to maintain physical distance. This means staying at least six feet away from others. Crowded places where youre in close proximity to others should be avoided.” 

Physical, not social, distancing - What if children have to be around others?

Its essential that everyone maintain physical distance as much as possible. If playdates are necessary because parents are essential personnel who need to share childcare while they work, then the groups should be kept as small as possible. Ideally, it should be a closed network—that is the same children all the time and any who is sick must not attend.

“However, playdates for fun or entertainment should be skipped. Parents can consider virtual playdates, with everyone on a digital platform to ‘see’ one another."

Parks, Playgrounds and Gyms - Or is any group activity regardless of size or location a bad idea right now? What about playing at the park or in gyms?

Group activities should be cancelled. Its critical that we maintain as much physical distance from others to minimize the spread of coronavirus.

However, while we are practicing physical distancing, its still really important for people to exercise. Unless prohibited by their city or town, I would encourage people to get fresh air and exercise in parks. Physical activity and sunshine are important for our physical and mental health.

“If youre visiting a park, consider doing so at off hours when there are likely to be fewer people. Regardless of when you go, remember to always maintain 6 feet between yourself, your child and others. If you cant maintain this distance because the park is too crowded, then it should be avoided."

Grandparents - What about visiting family members, especially the elderly? 

"Individuals over 65 and those with heart and lung disease are at increased risk of poor outcomes with COVID-19. Unfortunately, that means it is even more important for grandparents to physically distance themselves from others — including their own family — to protect their own health.

“Anyone over 65 should not watch other peoples children. I suggest families consider ways to connect with grandparents, but not in person. Maybe you call your grandparents every few days to check in on them. Children could write a letter or make their grandparents a card, thats something Im sure every grandparent would love to get in the mail.”

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