Physician guidance for Play Smart and Play Safe

Kids got the go-ahead from the governor to play together, but social distancing rules still apply. Sam Moore and Will Wygmans cleared some trails in the woods this weekend. Photo by Elizabeth Hunt

For those of us parents who are losing our minds at home with toilet paper roll sculpture, eye rolling marathons and wearing elastic waist pants for 3 days in a row…things are looking up!

In all seriousness, COVID-19 is not showing up in children in our state or elsewhere. In Vermont to date, there has been one case in a child under age 10 and 27 cases under age 19. Nationally 1 to 2 percent of total cases of COVID-19 (test positive) are in children and adolescents. And the growth rate of the virus has remained low, about 1 percent, in recent weeks.

Governor Scott amended his executive order on May 6 to allow Vermonters to “Play Smart and Play Safe.” The specific changes include small social gatherings of 10 people or less, preferably outdoors. Kids are able to play together after two months of being home with family.

The governor also announced last week that summer day-camps can open, thrusting parents into planning and decision-making mode. Specifics on which camps will offer programs and for how many children are yet to come. Childcare specifics will come out this week from the governor’s office.

Will B., a Charlotte Central School middle schooler, remarks that he is excited to “play catch on the ball field and try new hikes.” He points out that kids can “stay far enough away but close enough to connect.” He said he plans to take advantage of the updated guidance and enjoy “biking, lawn games and reading The Charlotte News.”

Governor Scott remarked at his press conference last week that state and municipal parks, recreation associations, trail networks, golf courses, tennis courts and skate parks will open to the public. Campgrounds will not yet open, and sports leagues are not under way. Kids have been seeing one another in neighborhoods and biking together on trails and roads, but now the contact can be more purposeful and in small groups if parents are comfortable.

“Our daughters have felt the same longing to connect with their peer group as we adults have. In the beginning, FaceTiming friends was novel and somewhat filled the void, but quickly they lost interest and just wanted to hang out with their friends, which of course wasn’t possible,” said Tina Helzer, a Charlotte mother of three and a local restaurant owner. “They felt isolated and sad. Now that we’ve been given the go ahead to hang out with other close friends, our kids are ecstatic merely at the opportunity to reconnect with their friends! We are going to take it day by day and ease into it, just seeing neighborhood friends first; but even this first step back to normalcy has brought my kiddos back to life again.”

Basic precautions very much matter with these latest measures. If anything, they matter more than ever to prevent a surge of illness. Wash hands. Don’t touch your face. Cough into your arm if you have to cough. Don’t spit just for the heck of it. And most important, if you feel sick, stay away from others at home. Get tested if you are ill. The symptoms known to be associated with coronavirus include fever, cough, aches, headache, chills, chest tightness, sore throat, new loss of taste or smell.

Testing is far more available in Vermont now and will be a crucial tool in continuing to re-open our state and get kids out and about. If you or a family member is even slightly ill, please contact your primary care provider to explore COVID-19 testing. Especially with childcare starting to re-open for all, childhood illness will resume.

Cloth masks will remain an important tool and are recommended for children over the age of two. As the state opens up, wearing a mask if you cannot guarantee six feet of distance or if you enter a store remains a key step in staying safe and healthy. So play safe, play smart, all!