At last summer is here, bringing with it long school-less days and increased opportunities to gather with friends and family for picnics and playdates.
Thanks to good COVID-19 vaccination rates and low virus spread in many communities across Northern California, people are beginning to take advantage of the warm weather. Even along the foggy coast, many are cautiously venturing out again—albeit in windbreakers and hoodies.
But not everyone is eligible to be vaccinated. A vaccine for kids ages 11 and under has not yet been granted emergency use authorization, leaving parents to try and figure out how best to navigate the summer months with unprotected children. And experts say the delta variant, which appears to be highly contagious, is rapidly spreading across the U.S.
Given all the unknowns, parents may wonder: Is it okay to send our kids to camp? Can we host a slumber party for our child’s birthday? Is it safe to go on vacation?
Jennifer Louie, M.D., an urgent care pediatrician with Sutter’s Palo Alto Medical Foundation in Fremont, and the mother of two young children, (that’s Dr. Louie with Loulou, age 5, and Thadeu, age 2, pictured above), sympathizes with her fellow parents. “My kids are young and can’t be vaccinated so I still need to be vigilant to protect them,” she says.
Dr. Louie encourages parents to weigh the relative risks and benefits of allowing kids more freedom this summer. “When you look at COVID infections as a whole for children, and especially the younger ones, it doesn’t seem to make them as sick. But at the same time, the risk for them isn’t zero, and so we can’t completely throw caution to the wind,” says Dr. Louie. However, she says, parents should consider that the continued isolation brought on by sheltering in place and virtual school may be taking its toll on some kids’ mental wellbeing.
Dr. Louie says a good approach is for parents to focus on activities that can be more safely enjoyed and when in doubt, parents should talk to their child’s pediatrician as they consider the risks and the benefits of leaving their COVID-19 pods this summer.
Are playdates and slumber parties okay?
Dr. Louie encourages parents to think about allowing lower-risk activities that still offer kids the chance to relax and play with their friends. For example, outdoor activities are lower risk than indoor ones, so parents might consider inviting over one or two of their child’s friends for an outdoor playdate in the backyard, at a park, at a lake or the beach, where the kids and adults are wearing masks except when they’re eating or drinking.
Similarly, parents might consider inviting over their child’s best friend, rather than a large group, for a birthday slumber party –this is an even safer option if the friend’s family members are vaccinated.
She also recommends that parents and kids continue to wear masks when they venture out in public –such as to the grocery store. “When we’re out, [my children and I are] still wearing masks and trying to keep our distance. We’re basically keeping the same precautions that were in place before reopening,” she says.
What about camp?
An outdoor day camp that follows public health masking, cleaning and social distancing guidelines is safer than a sleep-away camp, says Dr. Louie. She recommends talking to the day camp operator to get an idea of how the camp is run. Parents might want to ask how many kids are in each group, how masking, cleaning and social distancing are being handled and whether camp counselors and campers are being routinely tested.
Can we take our kids on a trip?
While travel on an airplane or to a popular destination like a theme park will be tempting, there are higher risks associated with these destinations and proper masking and hand hygiene should be closely followed, says Dr. Louie. If crowds still make you uneasy, consider vacationing away from other people and staying at a beach or mountain rental, to which you can drive rather than going to a busy resort or hotel. Some families might feel safest touring uncrowded destinations in a motorhome or camping under the stars.
The bottom line is that parents should carefully consider the risks they’re comfortable with taking, says Dr. Louie. And don’t be afraid to talk to the parents of your child’s friends to find out if they are vaccinated. Being respectful and kind and meetng people where they are at during these conversations will go a long way to reaching common ground, she counsels.
The pandemic won’t last forever, but until everyone is eligible to be vaccinated, it’s worth continuing to take precautions to help keep community spread as low as possible.
For more about how parents are navigating the state’s reopening, read the San Francisco Chronicle article Bay Area parents with unvaccinated children unsure how to navigate reopened California.