What’s the Risk? A Look at 14 Popular Activities During COVID-19

By Melissa Held, MD, and Nancy Trout, MD, MPH

New cases of COVID-19 in Connecticut are continuing to decline, but with the reopening of public spaces, restaurants and entertainment venues, health experts are worried about an increased spread of the virus over the coming weeks and months.

Melissa Held, MD, a pediatric infectious diseases expert, and Nancy Trout, MD, MPH, a primary care pediatrician, weigh in with their advice for popular summer activities.

When considering an activity, weigh the risks.

There’s still a lot we must learn about COVID-19, but we do know this: The virus is spread by respiratory droplets, and the highest risk of infection is in larger gatherings of people who are in close contact with one another. So it’s important to think about the types of interactions your family will be having with others, as well as how challenging it may be to follow safety guidelines like social distancing – and ensure that others do too.

With this in mind, different activities carry different levels of risk for infection.

Lower Risk

Pediatrician conducts appointment with young patient and mother

  • Outdoor exercise like hiking, biking or running: Outdoor exercise is one of the lowest risk activities your family can do. Transmission of the virus is lower outdoors, as is prolonged exposure to someone shedding the virus. However, if you or your child will be exercising with someone who’s not from your immediate household, be sure to adhere to social distancing recommendations. That means you should stay at least six feet apart and wear a mask when it’s difficult to maintain social distance.
  • Watching a movie: With certain measures in place, movie theaters can be a relatively low risk venue. Make sure that the theater is strictly limiting capacity, has sufficient spacing between non-family moviegoers, and cleans and disinfects chair and rail surfaces in between showings. Ideally, your family should wear masks during the movie, and keep in mind that any time a mask is removed (to eat popcorn or candy, for example), there is increased risk of COVID-19 infection from respiratory droplet spread. Struggling to get your child to wear a face mask? Use these strategies.
  • Bowling: Bowling may be another lower risk activity, with the right precautions. Each bowler should exclusively use one bowling ball that’s cleaned and disinfected before and after each use. Employees should implement lane spacing to maintain distance between non-family players. Your family should wear masks the whole time, wash or sanitize your hands regularly, and remember not to touch your face.
  • Outdoor dining: The risk of exposure while eating at an outdoor restaurant is lower than eating inside a restaurant, because the risk in general is reduced in outdoor settings. Make sure your family wears masks before and after your meal and avoids congregating in crowded spaces, for example, while waiting for a table. Ensure that the restaurant has set its tables far enough apart and waitstaff are also wearing masks.
  • Doctor appointment: Doctor’s offices are taking precautions to make your visits as low-risk as possible. For example, Connecticut Children’s offers Video Visits for more than 30 specialties, and offers contactless check-in and a Virtual Waiting Room to reduce contact at in-person visits. We clean and sanitize all rooms thoroughly between patients, screen employees as well as patients for fever or symptoms, and make sure all employees have appropriate protective equipment. Call your child’s doctor to ask about their specific safety arrangements. Learn more about how Connecticut Children’s is keeping kids safe and sound.
  • Dentist appointment: Dentist’s offices are making similar safety and protection arrangements as doctor’s offices, like sanitizing rooms between patients and arranging for contactless registration. Because they work directly in your mouth, dentists also wear full personal protective equipment including face shields or goggles, masks and gowns. So, while the risks may be slightly higher than a doctor’s appointment, these appointments are still relatively low risk. Call your child’s dentist to learn about their specific safety arrangements.
  • Getting a haircut: With proper precautions, hair salons and barbershops can be low risk. Wear a mask, ensure the staff are wearing masks, try not to touch surfaces, and make sure you and your child wash your hands or use hand sanitizer as soon as you leave. 

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Moderate to High Risk

 Empty, colorful playground with three slides

  • Playdates: Despite the reopening of parks, restaurants and businesses, it’s still important to limit your family’s exposure to other individuals as much as possible. Close contact with others, especially without face coverings, is very risky. Any time children are in close contact with one another, there’s a risk of spread. Parents should be thoughtful when discussing the pros and cons of having a playdate, especially with young children who are difficult to distance from one another and often touch their eyes, nose and mouth. If you do plan a playdate, go outdoors or to a bigger space with lots of ventilation, and supervise kids closely to keep them at least six feet apart. If you’re considering sending your child back to day care, here’s what to know.
  • Birthday parties: If you’re going to attempt a traditional birthday celebration, limit it to less than 10 children, plan activities that don’t involve direct physical contact, and make sure kids are old enough to understand and follow social distancing guidelines. Have the kids wear masks, and enforce lots of handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (or use hand sanitizer; just be sure to supervise children, since it can be toxic if swallowed). Anyone who’s feeling sick or had contact with someone known to have COVID-19 should stay home and seek medical advice. Want a birthday without the risk? Here are 14 Ways to Celebrate Your Child’s Birthday During COVID-19.
  • Outdoor playgrounds: The risk of using outdoor playgrounds varies. The risk is higher in communities where there’s ongoing spread of COVID-19, and at playgrounds that draw a crowd, which makes social distancing very challenging. You should also keep in mind that playground surfaces are unlikely to be regularly cleaned and disinfected, and young children are especially prone to touching surfaces and then their eyes, nose and mouth. If you’re going to visit a playground with your child, use one near your home so you don’t have to travel, and if possible, that isn’t being used by a lot of other families. Wipe down any surfaces before and after use, and continue to emphasize social distancing, regular handwashing and face masks for everyone over the age of 2.
  • Amusement parks: Current CDC guidelines for amusements parks are relatively vague. Overall, amusement parks are likely higher risk areas for the spread of infection, because they tend to get crowded, many rides have relatively closed spaces, and screaming and yelling expels respiratory droplets into the air. And although the risk of infection from surfaces is considered less than that of respiratory spread, it’s still a possibility – so unless ride surfaces are disinfected in between riders, there’s a potential for the virus to spread that way, too.
  • Attending an outdoor public protest: This is a moderate to high risk activity, with the risk increasing if some attendees don’t wear masks and the protest is very crowded. Infected people who are close by and yelling will transmit virus, especially if they are not wearing a mask. If your family plans to attend, you can reduce your risk by wearing masks and maintaining space between protesters. Here are tips for talking to your child about racial equality and social justice.
  • Attending an indoor public protest: Attending a crowded indoor public protest is high risk due to more closed spaces and ventilation concerns, especially if the protest is crowded and attendees are not wearing masks. 
  • Indoor dining at a restaurant: Several factors combine to make this a potentially high risk activity, like ventilation issues and lack of social distance. The larger the crowd and the smaller the space, the higher the risk for infection. Opt for outdoor dining when possible. If you do decide to dine indoors, make sure your family wears their masks before and after your meal, and avoids congregating in crowded spaces while waiting for a table. Choose a restaurant with adequate spacing between tables, and be sure the waitstaff is also wearing masks.

For every activity, follow these safety guidelines.

No matter the activity, it’s essential for everyone in your family to keep at least six feet between themselves and others; wear a mask or face covering in public, especially when it’s difficult to maintain social distance; and keep up the frequent handwashing or sanitizing.

Related Links
Is It Safe to Send Your Child Back to Day Care During COVID-19?
Don’t Delay Your Child’s Vaccines – They’re More Important Than Ever
Mask Up! Tips to Make Kids More Comfortable With Masks, Broken Down by Age
14 Summer Camp Alternatives During COVID-19

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