Safe behavior as restrictions ease

Contributor: Dr. Elise Herman, KVH Pediatrics

After what has felt like a very long time “sheltering in place” due to the Coronavirus pandemic, we are on the verge of easing of some restrictions. Whew! The problem is, of course, that if people do not follow the safety rules of social distancing and wearing masks, cases of COVID-19 may spike and force a renewal of restrictions. Adults understand this, but kids may not grasp why getting out more may look very different than ‘way back’ in March when life changed.

For young children, explain that the COVID-19 virus is a germ that can easily go from one person to another even if people don’t know they have it. It can travel in the air up to 6 feet (about the length of 2 grocery carts) if someone coughs or sneezes. To keep all people safe (and especially older people like grandparents), we need to stay at least 6 feet apart from others when we leave our homes. Washing hands and not touching our faces continues to be the routine. Explain that though parents may be going shopping a bit more as businesses open up, kids should still not be along for these trips if possible.

For older children and teens, let them know that they can be part of making the easing of restrictions successful by following the safety guidelines. They will be protecting not only themselves but also their family and community. Limiting the number of new COVID-19 infections helps keep our first responders and healthcare workers safe. Kids can be a good example to others to also ‘play by the rules’.

Ideally everyone should wear a mask when out and about if social distancing cannot be maintained. There are some exceptions, however. Children under the age 2 years should not wear a mask, and if the wearing of a mask causes your child to frequently touch and adjust the mask, it may be better to forego it. Wash hands before and after wearing a mask, and remove it by the ear loops or ties. Some children are afraid of people wearing masks; simply explain that masks make it harder for germs to travel from one person to the other. Kids may be less afraid (and more inclined to wear a mask if needed) if they can put a cloth face covering on a stuffed animal and see photos on-line of other children wearing them.

As the weather improves and access to the outdoors is made easier by changing restrictions, it may be tempting to rush to the park, lake or trailhead. Try to be pro-active to minimize being part of a crowd. Go early or late in the day, find lesser-known spots and if a place looks congested, make a different plan. Explain to your kids that we all have to do our part in protecting others and ourselves. And, as adults, that means leading by example – social distancing, washing our hands frequently and wearing a mask when social distancing is not possible. That said, getting out more will be terrific for our physical and mental health – we just need to do it safely.