As stay-at-home orders in Miami-Dade County are lifted, area summer camps have started to re-open. Many parents are left wondering how to ensure their families have a great summer, while balancing how to stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The summer camp experience brings a lot of positive effects to children,” said Dr. Audrey Ofir, MD, associate professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of Miami Health System, and director of the Pediatric Comprehensive Care Clinic at Jackson Health System. “This year, however, parents have to weigh in the benefits against the risks.”
The pandemic has created a lot of stress and fears, and has put summer plans on hold. Dr. Ofir answers some of the more common questions parents may have about summer camp, outdoor activities and traveling.
What questions can I ask to make sure the summer camp is safe and following the proper guidelines?
It’s important to consider a lot of factors when it comes to summer camps. Parents should make sure the summer camp is following CDC guidelines, and they should ask questions about their screening protocols before allowing their child to go to the camp.
Parents should also make sure all campers and camp staff are wearing masks at all times, do not share objects, that they practice social distancing and enforce handwashing. The camp should also have a strict sanitation protocol of all high-contact areas. It’s also very important to ask about their action plan in case a student or counselor gets sick.
Another important factor to consider is the number of children enrolled in summer camp. The smaller the group, the safer it will be for your child.
It is also recommended that the kids at the camp are from the same geographical area, and that the same group and same counselor remain together throughout the length of the camp. We also highly recommend outdoor activities because kids will have more space to practice social distancing.
What other outdoor activities are considered safe during the pandemic?
As parents, you have the responsibility to outweigh the risks of any activity you decide to do with your family. Although going for walks in the park is considered low risk, while you keep your distance and wear a mask, we do not recommend allowing your child to use the playground. Playground equipment poses a high risk on your child because it has high-contact surfaces like slides, swings, and monkey bars that are not sanitized regularly.
Going to the beach is also considered a lower risk activity because it’s outdoors. But you should still make sure the beach is not crowded, and practice social distancing. It’s best to go in a small group, and ensure that your child is next to you at all times. If the beach starts to get crowded, that’s your cue to leave.
We recommend that you avoid going to your community pool right now. It is also considered a high-risk area because it attracts larger crowds, and it has high-contact surfaces. If you choose to go to your community pool, make sure to bring your own towels, wear your mask, stay six feet apart, and avoid using lounge chairs.
I think it’s important to do your research about the location you are going to visit and find out if they are instituting good protocols. Zoo Miami, for example, reopened recently and has been open about their protocols. The zoo is limiting the number of people who go in at the same time, and they have sanitation stands throughout the park. As a visitor to these types of public entertainment venues, it is your responsibility to always remember to stay six feet apart from others and wear a mask.
How do I get my child to wear a mask?
Wearing a mask in the middle of summer is very challenging for adults – and even more so for children. As with any new behavior with children: prepare them, practice and reward them for keeping their mask on.
You should explain to your child why wearing a mask will keep them safer. Make a game out of it and put the mask on their stuffed animals or dolls, pretend play and make them masked super heroes. Practice inside your home first for short periods of time. As a parent, you have to be a role model and wear your mask as well. Remember that children under two should not be wearing masks.
Should I keep my summer travel plans with the family?
It all depends on where you are going, and the mode of transportation you are using. We recommend you look at the CDC website to see if the area you plan to visit is considered a hot spot. There are a lot of places in the country and outside the United States that are still experiencing a lot of COVID cases.
Renting a car is considered low risk. You should make sure the vehicle has been sanitized before getting in with your family. The biggest risk to consider with a road trip is rest stops. If you must stop at a rest stop, you should wear your mask and wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before getting back in the car.
Air travel has a higher risk because you are confined in the same space with other people and it’s difficult to practice social distancing. If you must travel by plane, always wear a mask, disinfect the areas you are touching, and wash your hands.
Is there other advice parents should follow during these times?
We highly recommend parents remain up to speed with their child’s vaccines and continue to do their annual checkups. Pediatric practices all over Florida are making sure to follow CDC guidelines in keeping your child safe. It is important to avoid creating another type of crisis during this pandemic.
We want to reassure the public that in line with the new protocols and extra precautions we are taking, our patient care areas are safe and are constantly undergoing deep cleaning to avoid the spread of COVID-19.
Audrey Ofir, MD. MBA, FAAP, is an associate professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of Miami, Miller School of Medicine. She’s also the director of the Pediatric Comprehensive Care Clinic at Jackson Health System and director of the Pediatric Residency Continuity Clinic at Holtz Children’s Hospital.