As the pandemic continues to improve and families are slowly navigating the transition to "together again," many parents and children still have questions. We all want to return to a sense of normalcy, but understanding how to do this safely can be confusing.
Here's the thing. I'm a Pediatrician, so I am always guided by science, and I try to make evidence-based decisions. I'm also a mom of three young kids. Hence, I have to consider practical and meaningful choices that are best for our family. So, as the world continues to re-open, I am navigating the transition just like you. Here's how I am approaching our family's "Together Again" plan.
- My Doctor Hat: While most cases of COVID-19 infections in children are mild, some do become severely ill. As a pediatric hospitalist, I have cared for children admitted for COVID, including the rare but serious MISC. My lens is a bit skewed, given my line of work. Still, simply knowing that severe illness is a possibility, I err on the side of caution when considering our family's transition plan.
- My Mom Hat: Remote learning, not seeing grandparents, refraining from sports - these have been challenging and sometimes devastating moments this past year for my kids. Last year, I heard from so many parents - "My child is so sad." It's been a heartbreaking year; I am so eager to attend playdates and birthday parties, travel, and explore the world but most importantly, embrace our loved ones routinely.
- My Doctor Hat: As a pediatrician, vaccines are not a political stance or subject of debate for me; I have seen all the positive outcomes in children's health with immunizations preventing major illnesses. The COVID-19 vaccine works similarly to other vaccines your child has had. It teaches the immune system to recognize and make antibodies to fight the virus. After vaccination, your child has less chance of getting COVID-19; if they get infected with the virus, they may not be as sick as they would be without the vaccine. Clinical trials showed COVID-19 vaccines to be remarkably safe and effective for adults and adolescents age 12 and older. The trials involved tens of thousands of volunteers. Now, clinical trials are underway for children as young as six months old. New guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer need to wear masks indoors or outdoors in most cases.
- My Mom Hat: My children are less than 12 years old, so they are not yet eligible for the vaccine. Although the adults in our family are vaccinated, we continue to wear masks, practice social distancing, and frequent hand-washing when traveling outside of the home with our young children. I do this to help set an example and show solidarity with them since they are unvaccinated. As parents, modeling good behavior can be instrumental in helping children understand the why and how behind these important actions to keep them safe.
TOGETHER AGAIN: How I'm transitioning back slowly as a Pediatrician Mom
It's summer! Almost all of our friends and family are vaccinated now. I'm ready to hang out and enjoy some fun times with everyone again. But wait - my children are unvaccinated … It's ok - families can lower the risk of COVID-19 transmission during get-togethers, even with kids too young to get the vaccine yet. You just need to take some extra precautions.
Plan small outdoor gatherings
Tip: Choose outdoor venues whenever possible. Lowers the risk of transmitting the virus through the air. Limit gatherings to 10 or fewer people. If there is any need to go inside, open windows to increase air circulation and choose a space large enough that children can keep a safe physical distance of at least 3 feet from each other.
- Consider individual cupcakes with candles just on the birthday child's, rather than a single, large cake.
Tip: When it's time to sing "Happy Birthday," skip blowing out the candles as that can spread germs into the air.
- Offer single-serving beverages and snacks rather than serving from shared containers.
Tip: Pre-filled glass or stainless steel cups decorated with guests' names can be a great take-home party favor.
Choose games and activities that don't involve close physical contact.
Tip: Individual crafts, classic games like charades, nature scavenger hunts, or a "drive-in" movie with friends parked apart can all be fun ways to still gather safely.
Continue the basics: Wear a mask, social distance, and frequent hand washing.
Tip: We still wear masks outside of the home when we are with our children who are too young for the vaccine for both infection control and modeling good behavior. However, with small outdoor gatherings of our family members who are vaccinated, we do go mask-free. It keeps it consistent for young kids.
It's been quite a year so go on … enjoy! Just remember to embrace the "Together Again" transition with some simple safety precautions to keep your family healthy this summer.
Update: Since the publishing of this blog, cases of COVID-19 have risen sharply due to the delta variant. Some states are reinstating mask mandates. Make sure to always check your local community transmission rates and follow local recommendations as well as the most recent and up to date guidance from the CDC.
*much of the information above it from Healthy Children - the American Academy of Pediatrics Parenting website. It is a great resource that I refer parents to routinely. Check it out!