With schools and extracurriculars reopening, the experts weigh in on which activities to avoid and how to mitigate day-to-day risks.
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With kids heading back out to playgrounds, daycares and schools, it’s normal for parents to feel a little nervous, even if you’re looking forward to your family getting more interaction out of the house. But it’s essential to navigate this next phase safely and seek out credible sources of information. You’ve likely had conversations about ways to reduce your risk of exposure, and it’s important to continue that process, says Dr. Srinivas Murthy, an infectious disease specialist and clinical associate professor in the University of British Columbia’s department of pediatrics. “What you’re going to tell a 5-year-old will be different from what you tell a 15-year-old,” says Dr. Murthy. “It’s about using our best judgement to face the world around us.” You can help prep your kids for school with Lysol’s HERE for Healthy Schools resources which educate children on germs, hygiene and safety surrounding sharing and social distancing.
Steer clear of the riskiest activities
When it comes to playdates, kids should avoid indoor activities in close quarters with other children (unfortunately, sleepovers aren’t a good idea). Instead, encourage outdoor play, like backyard visits, and replace higher risk sports with activities like biking, tennis or soccer. Only allow no-contact distanced games, like charades, “Red Light Green Light”, or Simon Says, and avoid sharing sports equipment and toys in between use. In many parts of the country, playgrounds that stayed open haven’t seen significant outbreaks in recent months, says Dr. Murthy, “and if there are relatively few people there, it can be good to get outside.” Check if playgrounds are open in the current phase of your province, and if they end up being busy, go for a hike instead.
At school, it may be tricky to prevent kids from sharing supplies and toys, but“careful wiping down of these items and surfaces, as well as good hand hygiene, will mitigate the risk of transmission,” says Dr. Sloane Freeman, staff physician in the Department of Pediatrics at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. “By teaching children healthy habits and good hygiene, we can help curb the spread of illness in schools. Lysol’s HERE for Healthy Schools initiative helps parents and schools access lessons and activities for children ages K-2,” says Dr. Freeman.
No activities are safe for others if your kid isn’t feeling well, so if they have symptoms of infection—fever, coughing, sore throat, diarrhea or vomiting—then they should not be in social situations, “they should be at home isolating,” says Dr. Freeman. Getting tested if you’re concerned is always advisable.
As eager as kids are to reunite with their pals, it’s still crucial to maintain physical distancing. “Making sure children, especially young children, are social distancing can be tough, but is key to minimizing risks,” says Dr. Freeman. “Reminding them that two meters looks like two arms’ lengths and other visual cues, such as pylons or tape on the floor [in group activities], can help.”
Continue to avoid large indoor gatherings, like birthday parties. “Kids can still celebrate; it just won’t be the same as pre-pandemic where everyone would gather around the cake to blow out candles. Those traditions should be modified,” says Dr. Freeman. A smaller outdoor party in open air with proper distancing is a better idea, since ventilation is a factor in spreading the illness.
Stay vigilant with hygiene
Kids can easily spread illness via touching their faces and high-touch surfaces, explains Dr. Freeman. “Kids are more at risk than adults in this way, given that their hands are always in their mouths and on their faces,” she says. Education is key: We should be teaching kids how to wash their hands, including the duration (20 seconds!) and the proper technique, says Dr. Freeman. Since kids won’t always have access to a sink, the next best thing is an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, so keep a hand sanitizer in their backpacks.
“If a child sneezes and then touches something, that is a risky exposure,” Dr. Murthy points out. Instead, teach kids to cough or sneeze into the crook of their elbow and not into their hands.
Disinfect surfaces regularly
Some good news: Despite how contagious COVID-19 is, Health Canada reports that it’s also very easily killed when it’s on surfaces if an appropriate disinfectant is used, such as Health Canada-approved Lysol Disinfecting Wipes. Since objects that are frequently touched are most likely to be contaminated, “when kids come home at the end of the day, it’s a good idea to wipe down any items they’ve brought from the classroom,” suggests Dr. Freeman.
It’s important to remember that kids will take our cues when it comes to preventing the spread of COVID-19, so setting a good example goes a long way.