Dr. Elizabeth Hill’s 18-month-old son, Arthur, habitually grabs masks for his two older siblings when the family prepares to leave the house.
By the time he turns 2 this fall, she hopes he never has to wear a mask.
“As he gets older every month, we’re one month closer to me working with him on learning how to wear a mask,” says Hill, a pediatrician at the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. “It’d be great if I never had to do that, if that was never part of his story.”
As a mother to three children under the age of 12 who aren’t eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, Hill says her family’s summer plans are filled with day camps and playing outside where there’s a decreased risk of virus transmission.
Like many families with unvaccinated children, the Hills are figuring out how to safely enjoy summer since 2- to 11-year-olds won’t get a vaccine until . Among the pediatricians and infectious disease experts Metro Parent talked with, few agreed about which activities are “safe” since each family situation differs.
Children are less likely to contract COVID-19 and even less likely to die from it. But the numbers aren’t zero. At nearly 4 million confirmed cases, they account for 14.1% of COVID-19 cases and 0-.21% of all COVID-19 deaths in the United States, .
“If your child happens to be one of them who does get severely sick with COVID and ends up in an I.C. or on a ventilator or dies, those numbers don’t mean anything to you,” says Dr. Mike Patrick, an AAP spokesperson and an emergency pediatrician at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
In Michigan, there are more than 30,000 COVID-19 confirmed cases among ages 0-9, accounting for about 0.04% of statewide confirmed cases, according to .
As of May 27, the nation saw , according to the AAP. That’s equivalent to less than 60 rows filled at Michigan Stadium, the .
When asked if children should hold off on hugs when visiting their grandparents, Patrick paused.
“Boy, that is really hard,” he says. “If a grandparent is immunized and the child has a mask on, the safest thing is to maintain your distance and to use a mask. On the other hand, it’s been over a year.”
Patrick says each family should weigh the risk of COVID-19 versus the emotional benefit.
This risk vs. benefit conversation can be tricky. Many experts recommended taking baby steps from virtual to in-person activities. Outdoor excursions at parks and uncrowded zoos, taking hikes or going on scavenger hunts can be a step in the right direction.
Dr. Dennis Cunningham, an infectious diseases doctor at the Henry Ford Health System and a father to a 14-year-old and a 16-year-old, says parents should encourage physical and mental wellness.
“Let kids be as normal as possible,” Cunningham says. “This past year with the social isolation, quarantining, it was really hard for kids’ mental health. Let them see their friends. It’s ideal if they’re outdoors.”
“As normal as possible” comes with an asterisk, though. Families with unvaccinated children should avoid crowded indoor movie theaters and parties, Cunningham says.
The safest defense against COVID-19 is the vaccine; the second-best strategy is mask-wearing, according to Patrick.
“It’s still possible for an unimmunized person to get COVID from an immunized person,” said Patrick, wearing a ‘Science: it’s like magic, but real’ T-shirt. “It’s low risk, but the risk is still there.”
Families attending Fourth of July celebrations and neighborhood block parties should ensure unvaccinated members wear masks. Even if all other attendees are vaccinated, parents should still have their children younger than 12 wear a face covering, according to Patrick.
Nearly every summer activity comes with risks. Here’s what experts say:
Since mask-wearing is a hazard while , parents should have their unvaccinated children distance from others and don a mask if they’re waiting in line at the popsicle stand or building sandcastles with friends, according to Hill.
Avoiding crowds is the main concern for beach and pool days, Patrick says.
While the CDC recommends to “ until you are fully vaccinated,” if everyone’s wearing a mask, air travel can be relatively safe for some families, according to Hill.
Playdates with unvaccinated children
Many experts say to keep social circles small and to check with other families about their comfort levels, in case a neighborhood friend has an immunocompromised family member.
For mask-wearing during indoor playdates, “it’s each family’s decision,” Cunningham says.
Eating in a restaurant
From last winter, outdoor eating popularized during the pandemic. With the weather warming up, families should capitalize on restaurants serving outside, Patrick says.
Signing up children for camps can be complicated. Mask-wearing policies are muddled with swimming, eating and drinking, while social distancing can be hard at campfires or while stuck inside during a storm.
Hill said to review each camp’s health guidelines before enrolling in camps.
The CDC recommends avoid indoor or close-contact sports and camp organizers limit “nonessential visitors, volunteers and activities involving external groups.” In general, they don’t need to wear masks while outside, according to the guidelines.
For any summer activity, families should consult local guidelines, Hill says.
Hill wants families to have fun filling out their summer calendars: “I’m hoping the warmer weather and our knowledge about the ability to safely engage in more activities if we’re outside, will really push kids off of their tablets and into the outdoors this summer.”
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