By Beth S. Pollak
As some summer camps open around the country, families are weighing whether the benefits of outdoor fun are worth the risks of COVID-19 infection. To learn more about how to make this choice, Caribu spoke with Dr. Geeta Nayyar, Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at Florida International University.
“Every decision you make with your family is a measured risk,” she said. “What you have to consider is if people are able to maintain social distancing (at 6 feet apart), wear masks, and practice good hand hygiene.”
In addition to practicing and teaching at the medical school, Dr. Nayyar is a nationally recognized expert on healthcare innovation and public health. She works with organizations to create and launch systems that improve physician and patient engagement. She’s also a parent who can relate to what other families are experiencing.
“No matter what choices you are faced with this summer, it can be helpful to make a decision with your pediatrician,” she said. “The most important question to ask yourself is: Is this program right for my child?”
We discussed some key information to gather that can help you make the right choice for your family. Take a look at Dr. Nayyar’s 12 suggestions below:
1. Research infection rates in your region. Look into the infection rates in your area; at the actual zip code and school district. Check local health department websites for current information, and contact the departments if you have questions. Remember: area infection rates might be vastly different from national rates, so stick to local sources of information.
2. Consider your level of household risk. Consider the situation of every member of your household, since your child can carry the virus back home if infected.
- Is there anyone in our home over age 65?
- Does anyone in your home smoke?
- Does anyone in your home have asthma?
- Does anyone have existing cardiovascular concerns like hypertension (high blood pressure) or respiratory challenges?
- Does anyone have diabetes or autoimmune diseases like lupus, Crohn’s, or rheumatoid arthritis?
- Is anyone undergoing medical treatment for other conditions or diseases?
If your answer to any of these questions is yes, there could be complications from a child’s exposure to COVID-19. Keep this in mind as you weigh options for summer programs.
3. Take a close look at your health care plan and health insurance coverage. If members of your household *do* get sick, keep in mind that you will need to access and pay for healthcare. Do members of your household have good relationships with their primary care doctors? Do your children have a responsive pediatrician?
Also, check your finances. What is covered under your health insurance plan? Has anyone recently lost a job? Can your family afford extra medical costs? Work with your household to explore insurance options that support your needs, and create a health savings plan for the event that someone will require medical care in the future.
4. Check on the availability of COVID-19 testing. What are the options for testing in your community? If you think your family has been exposed to COVID-19, it’s crucial to test to prevent the virus’s spread. Contact your local department of public health or health care provider to learn more.
5. Make sure that all of the child’s parents/guardians are on the same page about camp attendance. If your household agrees to summer camp, make sure that everyone is comfortable with the choice and potential consequences. Should a household member become infected, the adults should agree that they will not play a “blame game” and point fingers about the decision.
6. Plan for the possibility of infection. Make a plan to manage spaces and hygiene in the event that someone tests positive. Are children old enough to care for themselves if a primary caregiver is infected? Who is available to assist with childcare? Is it possible for household members to quarantine on different sides of the house if needed? Talk to your doctor to assist with a plan.
7. Investigate your summer camp’s infection prevention protocols. Review the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control for children’s summer programs. Before enrolling your child in a camp, find out if the program has a plan to comply with the latest guidelines. Ask the following questions:
- How will the camp comply with mask, social distance, and hand hygiene guidelines?
- How will the camp disinfect spaces between group usages?
- Will handwashing stations, hand sanitizer, and masks be available to kids at regular intervals?
- Will the camp staff be wearing masks and practicing safe hand hygiene / social distancing?
- Will the camp provide daily temperature checks to monitor for fever?
- Does the camp emphasize that kids must stay at home if they are unwell?
8. Consider if the camp is using kid-friendly language to discuss health and safety. Kids need to understand virus risks and prevention protocols in language that matches their age and maturity. Some ideas and phrases that can work:
- “We protect ourselves because we love our friends and family, and we don’t want them to become sick.”
- “Staying safe from a virus is like defending your goal in soccer. Practice good defense with a mask.”
- “The virus is invisible, and it acts like a mosquito or ant. You only realize that it is there once it bites you.”
- Use the “Happy Birthday” song (or others) to wash hands for at least 20 seconds.
- Sneezing and coughing into elbows.
9. Consider your child’s level of self-awareness. Children develop self-awareness and hygiene habits at different rates. Is your child self-aware enough to consistently practice safe hand hygiene, mask wearing, and social distancing outside of your home? If not, you might want to consider options that include greater supervision or that are closer to home.
10. Explore options besides attending a large group camp. Consider organizing small play groups with friends in local parks or backyards. Another idea is to launch a learning partnership with 1-2 families. If your family risk is high, you might want to stick to occasional outdoor play dates or family activities.
You also can explore online options. Consider virtual camps like #CampCaribu, which provides 100 days of activities, featured books, and weekly themed reading categories, with challenges and prizes to keep kids on track for the next school year.
11. Make kids part of the conversation. Talk with your kids about summer camp! Check-in with them daily to maintain a regular dialogue.
- On the emotional side, discuss what kids want to do this summer. Do they prefer large or small groups? Would they rather set-up one-on-one playdates? Do they feel comfortable with hygiene practices at their camp?
- On the physical side, review hygiene and protective protocols, like hand washing, social distancing, and mask wearing. Emphasize the importance of being honest about how they are feeling health-wise, especially if they think they might have a cough or cold.
12. Focus on healthy habits. Help everyone in your household maintain good health practices to prevent illnesses. Stick to a regular sleeping schedule and get enough rest. Include a variety of fruits and vegetables in family meals. Take vitamins as needed, and don’t miss out on important vaccinations or doctor’s visits. Strive to maintain a balance between work time and downtime so you don’t burn out. Seek opportunities for stress relief like taking family walks, stretching, listening to music, and playing games. Make time for reflection or spiritual practices like mindfulness, journaling, meditation, or prayers.
Dr. Nayyar says that family conversations are essential to acknowledge the challenges and uncertainty of this time. She uses kid-friendly language to teach about the immune system and encourage healthy habits. “Your kids need to know: ‘We’re in this together, and we will do our best together.’”
Want to explore more about building healthy habits with your kids? Check out the Critter Fitter series of books on the Caribu app, written by Dr. Jen Welter, the first female coach in the NFL. Read along with fun critters who share some tips for physical, psychological, and emotional fitness during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
Beth S. Pollak is a writer and educator based in California. In addition to working with Caribu, she consults with educational organizations and EdTech companies. Beth has worked as a teacher and journalist in Chicago, New York and San Francisco. She holds degrees in journalism, bilingual education, and educational leadership. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, biking, picnics, and dance.