COVID-19, Family

Playdates are out, schedules are in — what experts say kids should and shouldn’t do as the coronavirus outbreak closes schools

Globally, the virus is disrupting the education of more than 400 million children

On Monday morning, schoolchildren across the country woke up with one question: What are we doing today?

From preschoolers to high school seniors, students were suddenly without a daily routine as the coronavirus outbreak closed their schools.

In an effort to slow the virus’ spread, almost 20 states temporarily shuttered statewide kindergarten through 12th-grade schools as of Sunday. They are shifting to online instruction, just like many colleges that are ending in-person classes. Many other cities and towns are taking the same approach in states that haven’t yet announced closures.

New York City — the country’s largest school district, with 1.1 million students — closed this week and could stay that way through the end of the school year, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Sunday.

U.S. students are among approximately 420 million students worldwide impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, according to the United Nations. As of Tuesday morning, there were 182,425 confirmed cases globally and 7,167 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering; the database also reported 79,737 recoveries. The U.S. has had at least 4,661 confirmed coronavirus cases and 85 deaths.

As officials have announced school closures, parents have been weighing questions about what to do with their kids for the foreseeable future.

Are playdates still OK?

No, according to Asaf Bitton, executive director of the Boston-based Ariadne Labs, a joint center run by the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

‘This sounds extreme because it is.’— Asaf Bitton, executive director of Ariadne Labs

“This sounds extreme because it is,” said Bitton. Skipping playdates is one way to practice the “social distancing” that will slow spread of COVID-19, he explained.

The goal with all the closures, whether it’s school closures, sporting events or theme parks, is to cut down on crowds and possibilities for new coronavirus cases.

The same thinking applies to playdates, Bitton explained. “Even if you choose only one friend to have over, you are creating new links and possibilities for the type of transmission that all of our school/work/public event closures are trying to prevent,” Bitton wrote.

At least one town in New Jersey is trying to make residents follow that advice. “Social distancing means NO visitors, playdates, or hangouts and remaining out of public spaces,” Maplewood Village Mayor Frank McGehee said in a Sunday announcement.

Children, as a demographic, haven’t been hit as hard by the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, experts have noted.

Older adults and those with pre-existing chronic conditions are at higher risk of getting very sick from the coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But children can be “spreaders,” who can transmit the virus to people who are at greater risk, Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University professor of preventive Medicine and health policy, told CNN.

Other public health experts have said small playdates can be okay — but kids and parents need to be vigilant about hand-washing and cleaning children’s toys with disinfectant. Dr. Eli Perencevich, a University of Iowa epidemiologist, told the New York Times that complete avoidance of playdates “would be impossible” over several weeks. He recommended meet-ups in large, outdoor spaces, like a hike away from a populated playground.

So what can my kids do all day if they can’t play with friends?

As more schools closed their doors, daily schedules for children starting surfacing on Twitter TWTR, 1.044% and Facebook FB, -2.458%, slicing the day into smaller increments devoted to academics, free time, chores and time to explore.

One Massachusetts charter school founder has a plan for “daddy school.”

And financial journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin said he was going to type this schedule to his refrigerator for his kids.

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Andrew Keshner, Playdates are out, schedules are in — what experts say kids should and shouldn’t do as the coronavirus outbreak closes schools, MarketWatch, Mar 17, 2020, 8:56 am ET,