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What may seem like a simple playdate could negatively impact the health of your child, others you come in contact with, and the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. Getty Images
  • Despite stay-at-home orders and current guidelines about the need for social distancing, some parents continue to plan playdates for their kids with other children.
  • Some parents may have heard kids aren’t at risk from COVID-19, but that’s not accurate.
  • Children aren’t only at risk from COVID-19 themselves, but they can also transmit the virus to parents, grandparents, and others who may have even greater risk for severe complications.
  • While parents may just be trying to help keep their kids entertained, they could be contributing to the need for long-term social distancing and potential lockdowns for everyone.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted life as we know it.

Schools are closed, restaurants are no longer allowing customers to dine in, businesses are shutting their doors, and those who can still work are being asked to do so from home whenever possible.

For the most part, people are accepting this new way of life and doing what they can to help prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. But drive by any playground or park in the afternoon, and you’re likely to find at least a few kids frolicking together.

Playdates are still being planned, day cares are still being utilized whenever possible, and parents desperate to entertain the children they now have at home all day are eschewing social distancing rules in favor of inviting other little ones over to play.

Pediatrician Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP, of PediatriCare Associates in New Jersey, also acts as a medical consultant for Mom Loves Best. She says there are two components to social distancing: personal space and avoidance of other people.

“From what we know so far about COVID-19, it is spread from person to person via expelled respiratory droplets during coughing, sneezing, and even talking,” Alexander explained. “The recommendation is to maintain a distance of 6 feet away from people, whether they are symptomatic or not.”

But she says the other aspect of social distancing — limiting unnecessary contact with others — requires staying away from people who aren’t already living in the same household.

“This includes avoiding social gatherings with family and friends and not attending large group events, such as concerts, sports events, and religious services,” she said.

These new rules aren’t just being established to force people into isolation and boredom.

Mary Mason, MD, MBA, FACP, is board certified in internal medicine and the founder of Little Medical School, an educational program that provides real-life skills and exposure to medical professions for kids between the ages of 4 and 14.

She says that highly contagious diseases like COVID-19 can be very difficult to stop once the spread has begun.

And that can be dangerous, not just because at-risk groups face losing their lives, but also because entire hospital systems can become overwhelmed and unable to treat the population at large.

“Social distancing can be used early on to slow the spread of the virus so hospitals, doctors, and nurses have time to prepare for patients who get very sick and may need to be admitted to the hospital,” Mason explained.

A lot of parents have heard that kids aren’t at risk from COVID-19, which may be driving their decisions to still arrange playdates and meet up at the park. But that information isn’t exactly accurate.

“Anyone can acquire and become ill from COVID-19, including infants and children,” Alexander said. “While some infant cases of COVID-19 have been asymptomatic in the U.S., infants in China became more acutely ill. Eleven percent of those infants required intensive care.”

This data comes from a recent report from the journal Pediatrics and is part of why Alexander said, “It is best for all children and infants to adhere to the social distancing recommendations.”

But protecting their health and safety isn’t the only reason parents should help their kids practice social distancing.

While some kids can have mild symptoms, or even be asymptomatic, Alexander says they can still spread the disease to others.

And that’s the real problem with letting kids continue to socialize.

“Allowing kids to have playdates and get-togethers can potentially continue the chain of viral spread into the community,” Alexander said.

“Because children may be asymptomatic carriers, they can transmit COVID-19 to members of their family and to whomever else they have had contact. This puts parents and others at risk, especially those with preexisting medical conditions,” she said.

But the issue isn’t even just others who may be at risk. It’s also how that continued spread could potentially overwhelm our medical care system and prolong the need for continued school and business closures.

While parents may be just trying to help keep their kids entertained, they could be contributing to the need for long-term social distancing and potential lockdowns for everyone.

“At this time, with numbers of COVID-19 cases increasing on a daily basis, there is no such thing as a ‘safe’ playdate,” Alexander said.

Mason says that as difficult as it may be right now, routine is important.

“It is critical to keep a routine even though all family members are staying at home. While it may be tempting to stay in your pajamas all day, try to set expectations and a routine for each family member,” Mason said.

She suggests involving your children in establishing a schedule for each day.

“Include time for exercise, reading, art projects, games, playing with the family pet, and Skyping with friends. Look for online contests or challenges that can give children a sense of accomplishment and achievement,” she said.

And Alexander advises that the best way to help kids stay connected with their friends is through virtual means while social distancing.

“Kids love electronics, so it should not take much convincing for them to use these options. With a variety of video chat platforms currently available, children can connect with friends, grandparents, and other loved ones while remaining at a safe distance,” she said.

For parents and kids who are already feeling stir-crazy, it’s understandable they may want a timeline for when this will end.

However, the answer to that is unknown.

“At this point in time, it is difficult to say when we can end social distancing,” Alexander said. “The number of cases and concern for an overwhelmed healthcare system increases daily.”

While there was initially a hope that COVID-19 would die down in the summer months, that no longer seems to be the case.

Recent data shows viral transmission is more associated with people living in highly populated communities rather than affected by weather,” Alexander explained.

This may have to do with how much more difficult social distancing is in those highly populated areas.

And it’s just one more reason to try as hard as you can to adhere to social distancing rules to help slow the spread of this virus so we can all return to normal as soon as possible.

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