How to get together safely
Although it may seem unintuitive, large, formal settings are often safer than small, informal ones, as they usually require people to follow strict rules to minimize risk, Dr Arvadi said.
At school, for example, “even though the children are in the classroom, their activities are very prescribed,” said Dr. Ellen Wald, a pediatrician in infectious diseases at the University of Wisconsin, School of Medicine and Public Health. They are usually required to wear masks and sit at desks six feet apart.
Yet the opposite is often true when people gather carelessly. We relax with friends and family; we take off our masks and are not so strict as to control the social distancing of our children. But this is not a good idea, warned Dr. Arvadi. “I think the settings where people now feel safe are the ones where the risk is actually the highest in many ways,” she said. And if children who become infected at small gatherings go to school, they risk spreading it to their classmates, teachers and other school staff.
This does not mean that families should be locked in the house for the rest of the year. But it’s important for them to follow public health guidelines at all times, Dr. O’Leary said, even when meeting informally with friends and family (unless they’re involved in real pandemic pods in which families socialize with each other and no other).
Whenever possible, hold social gatherings outside, Dr. O’Leary advised, and make sure everyone wears masks, especially if they can’t stay at least six feet away. If you need to be inside, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers maximum ventilation by opening windows or doors and making everyone wear masks and again keep at least six feet away.
“Children need to socialize, don’t get me wrong,” Dr. Arvadi said. The goal is “to make sure that children get the things they need for their emotional development, for their mental health, but in ways that keep the risk relatively low.
Melinda Wenner Moyer is a science and health writer and author of an upcoming book on parenting.