3 Experts on What Unvaccinated Kids Can—And Can’t—Do Safely These Days

T.M.: Any child with cold or flu symptoms should not be participating, period. With that assumption, I would say that outdoor sports and activities don’t pose a huge risk, but that masking should be maintained if exertion levels permit. As with everything else, nothing is zero risk. 

Is it safe for my kids to participate in indoor sports or activities, like basketball or indoor swimming? What can they do to stay safe?

T.S.: I would look at local levels of spread and the size and ventilation of indoor locations. A very large location with good airflow, like a gymnasium with fans and open doors and a small number of people, would be less risky than a small workout room with minimal ventilation and lots of people. Masks are still recommended if indoors

T.M.: For indoor sports and activities, I would recommend masking as much as possible, recognizing that some activities like swimming are impractical. Where masking isn’t feasible, distancing is helpful. For sports like basketball which cannot be done without close contact, the team culture will probably dictate the risk, but things like masking while on the bench can help.

Like school, summer camps are filled with mostly unvaccinated kids, but many activities are outdoors. Is there any way my kids can safely go to summer camp?

S.O.: Yes, as long as they wear a mask indoors. It’s always a good idea to encourage outside activities anyway in these situations.

T.S.: An outdoor day camp would be less risky than an extended overnight camp, with large groups of kids from different areas crowded into bunks together. Ask the camps what mitigation measures they have in place, if meals would be outdoors or inside in a crowded cafeteria, and what happens during rainy days. 

T.M.: In general, I think summer camps appear to be pretty safe based both on data from last summer and what we are seeing this summer. This is a situation where the child development benefits are huge, and so I’m really in favor of kids going to camps so long as some degree of masking and distancing can be maintained. Having the activities in well-ventilated and outdoor spaces certainly helps.

Can kids safely go into crowded indoor areas like movie theaters or children’s gyms, as long as they wear a mask?

S.O.: If you’re unvaccinated it’s not a great idea to do these super crowded activities. For the vaccinated it’s perfectly fine, but I would still recommend wearing a mask if you don’t know everyone’s vaccination status.

T.S.: The CDC puts crowded indoor activities as their highest-risk category (“least safe”), which includes movie theaters. Risk can be reduced if everyone is masked, but space and ventilation are also key. I know some movie theaters are renting out spaces for private movies; perhaps something like this could be done instead. 

T.M.: It’s all about balancing risks. For indoor venues, it’s all about density. Low-density indoor activities where people are masked are higher risk than not going, but lower risk than if the venue is packed. 

What about having an indoor playdate with just a couple of other unvaccinated kids whose parents are vaccinated? Do my kids still need to wear a mask?

T.S.: I am keeping my child masked when he is indoors with friends and trying to maximize time outdoors instead. But again, this is something that can vary depending on local transmission levels, and the exposures to other children and their parents. 

T.M.: I’m in favor of playdates for the same reasons as the other activities. I think so long as there are no symptomatic children, then unmasked activities are not unreasonable. I think it’s impractical to keep kids in a playdate masked the whole time anyway, and so long as the numbers are controlled it is not unreasonable. As with everything, outdoor activities might be a good way to reduce risk, but it’s about balance.

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