Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital Expert Offers COVID-19 “Safe Play” Tips for Parents

Newswise — As the world begins to slowly open back up after months of living in a safer-at-home mode, many families are wondering how best to re-introduce their children to society.

One of the biggest questions: Is it OK to allow playdates and if so, what are the recommendations for safe play?

Tamasyn Nelson, DO, assistant professor of Pediatrics at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, provides parents and caregivers with guidance on how to safely integrate others into a child’s daily routines.

“The safest thing right now is still physical distancing,” stressed Nelson. “It is understandable that families will want to start reinstituting playdates as the restrictions are lifted. Still, there are several factors to take into consideration and none of these completely reduces the risk of infection.” 

Among Nelson’s top suggestions: 

  • Stay outdoors

“Our current understanding is that COVID-19 spreads through respiratory droplets, so it is better to have children play outdoors where there is a free flow of air rather than having children play together indoors in a more confined space. Staying outdoors is definitely less risky.”

  • Distancing

“It is safest to follow the 6-feet-apart recommendations of the CDC and local governing agencies to protect yourself and your children and reduce the risk of infection. If that is not possible, then wearing masks can serve as a protective barrier.” 

  • Small groups

“Smaller groups of children playing together are preferred to larger groups in order to limit the number of children and adults that are interacting as this will reduce the chances of exposure.”

  • Spend less time together

“Keeping visits shorter will be best,” she advised. “And if families are seeking to make playdates more of a routine, it’s important to keep those interactions and playdates within the same small group of families to limit the potential for exposure to the virus.”

  • Hand hygiene

“Ensuring that children are washing hands before and after play as well as wiping down toys will be an important step in keeping them safe. It will be important for parents and caregivers to keep a close watch and remind everyone of the need to wash their hands.”

Additionally, hand washing before and after eating and not sharing food will also help reduce the risk.

These safety measures are incredibly difficult for younger children as they don’t understand the need to adhere to the safety measures surrounding COVID-19, said Nelson.

“It’s natural for children to play together and share toys and hug and touch,” said Nelson. “It’s just that in these times, it’s not encouraged.” 

Nelson also said in the case of having playdates or interactions between children younger than 2, who should not be wearing masks, or older children who will not wear masks, frequent hand washing and disinfecting of shared surfaces will be the best preventive methods to reduce their risk.

Weighing the need to have these interactions with the risk of exposing other family members to COVID-19 is another key factor to consider, she said. 

“Parents and caregivers may want to consider what is the risk of exposure to the entire family if they choose to participate in an activity or have a playdate for their children,” said Nelson. “For families living with older family members or with members who have chronic illnesses, these outings may put those members at a higher risk.”

Prior to playdates and to help ensure the safety of others, Nelson said, it’s important to disclose with other families if you or your family member has recently been sick or had a potential exposure to someone with COVID-19. Additionally, if the prevalence of cases is increasing in a particular area, it’s important to consider if outside interactions are really worth it. 

“Overall, it’s vital that parents have open conversations with their children, family members and other parents about their concerns and comfort levels,” she stressed.

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