Editor's note: Is it safe to get back to the life you knew? As services come back, we’re asking our doctors and other providers to help answer those questions in a series called Navigating COVID: Back to life. You’ll find those stories, and many others, here. Got a question? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For parents, this is a time like no other. Dr. Kym Selden, a physician with Novant Health Pediatrics Concord, has advice on keeping your kids safe as we dive headlong into summer in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Don't delay vaccinations
Many visits had been of the virtual variety during the quarantine. “We’ve been slowly bringing all well-child checkups back into the office,” said Selden. “If there’s something a parent wants their child seen for – particularly if there’s fever, concerns about dehydration, an earache – we want to see those kids in the office,” she said. “But we’re still offering virtual video visits who want that convenience.”
Some visits need to be in person – an annual checkup is one of them. And you definitely want to stay on schedule with childhood vaccinations. Delaying vaccinations is a dangerous move. Don’t do it. Doctor's offices are safe.
Travel? No so fast.
Any discretionary travel should be delayed, Selden said. “If it’s feasible for a family to do a road trip, you’ll need to carefully plan, make sure you have all the supplies you need and minimize the number of stops you make along the way.” There’s a lot to take into consideration. Traveling – even by car – is a risk now, and you have to decide if a family getaway is worth it.
Summer camps. Do your research.
Parents should start by seeing if their camp is following guidelines recently updated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“When evaluating day camps and sleepover camps, be sure the camp is recommending face coverings,” Selden said. “They may not require face coverings full time, but something in their protocol should address it.”
Two red flags to look for when considering camps: lots of shared equipment and a fitness gym. “Under North Carolina guidelines, gyms are still closed in phase two,” said Selden. “At a gym or camp, there tends to be a lot of equipment-sharing and frequently touched surfaces. You want to find out how those are being sanitized and how often.”
Lastly, if your child has a chronic medical condition that might predispose them to more serious disease, talk to your child’s doctor before making a decision about camp.
Swimming pool safety
If there’s any good news to be found, it might be this. “Strong evidence shows that, as long as the chemistry of the pool water is optimally maintained, we should not have to worry about transmission of the virus through water,” Selden said.
But that doesn’t mean you can let your guard down at the pool. Before getting in, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content.
Respiratory etiquette is crucial. If you're coughing, don’t go to the pool. If you need to cough or sneeze out of the blue, do so into the crook of your elbow. If you’re at an indoor pool, there should be adequate ventilation.
“Wear a cloth face covering when you’re out of the pool,” Selden advises. “And be sure the pool you’re going to has well-defined safety and hygiene protocols, adequate supplies and good signage about new rules in place due to COVID-19.” Any frequently touched surfaces – chairs, handrails, door handles, slides – should be disinfected often.
Even at a pool, social distancing is important. Stay at least 6 feet away from anyone who isn’t part of your household unit. There’s a higher risk level when you mix children from different households.
If your child is on a swim or dive team (or any sports team, really), be sure coaches are implementing and enforcing social distancing among teammates.
Newborns and infants
It’s not easy being a new parent during a pandemic. “If there's ever been a time for a new mother to think about self-care while parenting her newborn, that time is now,” said Selden. “It’s important for new moms at any time – but certainly at this time – to rest, eat, hydrate and lean on the folks who are a part of her household to lend a hand.”
“Bringing home a newborn can be a very isolating time,” she continued. “And even more so when social distancing is the order of the day.” Selden recommends connecting with friends by phone or video.
Hand-washing and masking are important for all of us now, but especially for a family that includes a newborn. If family wants to come to town to visit the newborn, you’ve got to vet them first. Have they been traveling recently? Could they have been exposed to the COVID-19 virus? Is there any potential they could be an asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic carrier of the virus?
“Obviously, if anyone is having symptoms of illness, they shouldn’t visit,” Selden said. “We always start there.”
If new parents are comfortable with, say, grandparents coming for a visit, insist that they wear face coverings while they’re in your home and certainly while holding the baby. In general, it’s good to limit visitors during the newborn period.
What about sleepovers?
Is it time now to relax and have another child over for a sleepover? No.
“It’s impossible for the host parent to ensure that a child guest hasn’t been exposed to someone with the COVID-19 virus,” she said. “I’m telling you as a parent and as a pediatrician, I know it’s hard. I’m putting those restrictions on our own children and recommending those kinds of restrictions for the children we take care of. This is the way we have to conduct ourselves now.”
A last word on face masks
There are some big misconceptions about facial coverings, Selden said. “Their main purpose is to protect people around us,” she said. “You can spread the virus to others, even if you don’t feel sick. They do offer some protection for the wearer, but they’re primarily to protect other people.”
You never know who you’re walking by at the grocery store, pharmacy or on the street, Selden said. It could be front-line worker, a person with a chronic medical condition or the parent of a child who’s immune-suppressed.
“Don’t feel like you’re invincible when you have a mask on,” she said. “You’re doing your part to reduce the chance of spreading the disease.”