By P. Saleena Dakin, M.D.
One topic on the minds of many parents is whether their children will be safe and healthy if they attend day care or summer camp. Many parents feel they may have little choice—they’re returning to work and need a safe place for their children to spend the day.
With many communities easing restrictions on stay-at-home orders, some day cares and summer camps will open. Parents shouldn’t be shy about asking providers many questions about the steps they are taking to keep children safe.
Children and COVID-19
We’ve been hearing since the start of the coronavirus pandemic that children appear to rarely get the illness, and if they do, they tend to have a mild case. We also know that some children are now getting very sick with a condition called Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) that appears to be associated with COVID-19. MISC-C is extremely rare.
What we don’t truly know is to what extent children are transmitting the virus to other children and adults. That is one reason day cares and summer camps are taking extraordinary steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. There is concern that children could catch COVID-19, remain asymptomatic and then spread the virus to other children, their adult caretakers or bring it home to their parents and other family members, such as grandparents.
When considering where to send your children to day care or summer camp, parents should familiarize themselves with state and local guidelines, as well as guidance from the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Consider asking about the following:
Masks: Do staff members wear masks at all times? Are children older than 2 required to wear masks? What steps will be taken to encourage the children keep their masks on while in your care?
Physical distancing: How do you get children to practice physically distancing? How will staff members practice physical distancing? Will children be kept in cohorts, meaning they won’t mix with other classes or groups? How many children will be in a group? How many children total will be at the center or camp?
Cleaning and disinfecting: How often do you clean and disinfect the facility, toys and other equipment? How often will restrooms be cleaned? How often will children wash or sanitize their hands? How will you encourage the children to observe regular hand hygiene?
Screening: Do you screen every child and staff member for COVID-19 symptoms before they enter the facility each day? What is your procedure if someone gets sick?
Activities: What activities will children engage in? Will children be allowed to play on playground equipment? Will children be allowed to swim? How will that work? Will children be allowed to play sports and, if so, which ones? What is your approach to team sports?
Other procedures: How will meals be served? How will toileting be handled, particularly for little kids who need help? How will the pick-up/ drop-off process work? Are parents allowed inside the facility? How will staff be trained in implementing safety procedures?
Sleepaway Camp Considerations
Many of the questions above are applicable for sleepaway camps as well, but parents considering sending their children, tweens and teens to sleepaway camp may also want to ask:
• Who is on your medical staff and how are they trained?
• How close are you to health care facilities and a hospital?
• How will you communicate with me throughout the summer?
• Do children need to quarantine before and/or after attending camp? What about staff?
What You Hope to Hear
When you ask your questions, you want to hear answers that give you comfort that the facility has a process in place. You want to know they took a thoughtful look at their space and figured out how to maintain physical distancing. You want to hear that they have a plan for cleaning and disinfecting, as well as a plan for screening people upon arrival at the facility.
If the camp is outdoors, you want to hear about plans for inclement weather, such as thunderstorms or high-heat indexes.
The camp or day care should have a plan in place for what happens if someone gets sick and be able to detail how they will protect others and isolate the ill child until caregivers arrive.
You also should hope to hear about training, including details about how staff will be trained in enforcing mask usage and physical distancing.
Making the Decision and Teaching Your Children
Ultimately, the decision on whether to send a child to day care or summer camp rests with the parents. Think about your family’s unique situation. Is anyone immunocompromised? Are grandparents living with you? Who in your household or family contacts may be at higher risk for COVID-19 and its complications? You may also consider consulting with your child’s pediatrician if you have any concerns.
If you decide to send your child to day care or camp, make sure your child’s vaccinations are up to date. Tell your child what to expect at camp or day care. Explain that measures are being taken to keep them safe.
Model and practice hand washing. Have children practice wearing masks for extended periods of time if they will be expected to do so at day care or camp.
Remind children to cough or sneeze into a tissue, and then discard the tissue and wash hands. Coughing or sneezing into the elbow area also works.
Show children what 6 feet looks like. Good examples: the length of a bathtub, a mattress or a door.
Remind children to follow the directions that their caretakers set out.
Finally, instill confidence. Once you’ve done your research and decide you are sending your child, be confident in your decision, and display that confidence in front of your children. While you are focused on safety measures, talk to your children about all the fun and exciting activities they are going to do while at camp or day care. That means don’t show nervousness at drop-off. Keep a calm demeanor, and your children will pick up on that and will enjoy their time with friends.
P. Saleena Dakin, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician with the Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group, and the assistant chief of pediatrics for the Northern Virginia Service Area. She sees patients at the Kaiser Permanente Falls Church Medical Center, and she offers patients care by video, phone and secure message.
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