May 8, 2021


Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Post-COVID vaccine, what can you do with your kids?

Now that COVID-19 shots are available to everyone 16 and up, it’s just a matter of time before you’re fully vaccinated (if you’re not already). That means you’ll able to move through the world with much more freedom than you’ve had for the past year.

Amazing news!

But if you are vaccinated and your kids are not, the extent of that freedom may feel uncertain.

Will this long-awaited immunity allow you to return to something that resembles your pre-pandemic life? Or do you have to wait until your kids are vaccinated as well?

Unfortunately, it’s not clear how long that wait could be. Experts predict kids 12 and over will likely be eligible for a shot in the next few months, but the timeline for younger children is fuzzier and might stretch into early 2022.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean the cautious parent is condemned to another summer of isolation.

“I think this summer is going to be very different,” said Tara Kirk-Sell, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

If case rates continue to fall and vaccinations keep ramping up, the risk of infection will drop precipitously for all Americans — including the ones who are too young to get the shots.

“If not that many people are running around sick, that changes the way we respond, and the activities we can do,” Kirk-Sell said.

In addition, data have shown repeatedly that COVID-19 does not pose the same risk to kids as it does to adults.

For instance, the rate of infection for 5- to 17-year-olds is only half what it is for adults ages 30 to 49 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And among kids, the incidence of COVID-19 in elementary school age-children is only half what it is in adolescents.

There’s an even bigger gap between the rates of hospitalization and death among children and adults.

The CDC found that the hospitalization rate for 5- to 17-year-olds is only one-tenth as high as it is for people in their 30s, and their COVID-19 mortality rate is 45 times lower.

“For most children who are healthy and don’t have other co-morbidities, the risk of coronavirus is pretty low,” said Dr. Annabelle De St. Maurice, who heads up pediatric infection control for UCLA Health.

Nothing is ever entirely risk-free, and ultimately parents will have to decide for themselves what feels safe to do when some family members are vaccinated and others not.

“It’s not black and white,” said De St. Maurice.“A lot of this depends on your own risk tolerance, your family’s general health status, and your values. It runs on a spectrum.”

For parents who can’t tolerate the idea of their kid getting sick, sticking with the precautions that have kept the family safe for the last year may be the most comfortable. That means staying home as much as possible, not mixing with others outside the household, and wearing a mask when you do go out.

For others who are ready to start stepping out into the world as a family, experts say it can be done safely as long as a few basic protocols are in place.

“Keep it outside, wear masks and don’t play with kids who are sick,” Kirk-Sell said.

Here’s more advice on how to think through the risks involved in various family-friendly activities.

Going to a museum

Both Kirk-Sell and De St. Maurice agree that museums are generally fairly low-risk environments.

“Most museums are really good about following physical distancing protocols, enforcing mask-wearing and operating at reduced capacity,” De St. Maurice said. “You can also call ahead to see what they are doing to keep people safe.”

Kirk-Sell said that taking the family to an indoor museum seems reasonable, especially if the case rate in the community is low — like it is in California — and it’s easy to keep distanced from others.

Olivia Brown, 7, right, and her brother Jacob, 5, visit the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles with their father after it reopened to the public.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Playing sports

Outdoor sports like soccer, baseball and softball are fairly low-risk, and that’s even more true if the kids are wearing masks, Kirk-Sell said.

However, the off-the-field activities that often go along with those sports — like carpooling or stopping for pizza after the game — are more dicey.

“On the field is fine,” she said. “But you do need to be careful about those other things.”

De St. Maurice noted that outdoor sports will be inherently safer than indoor sports. She also suggested that all players be screened before getting on the field. That includes having their temperature checked and being asked about possible recent exposure to anyone with COVID-19.

Getting together with friends

When it comes to play dates and get-togethers with other families, Kirk-Sell said it’s still best to try to keep kids outside and masked as much as possible.

“You never know when they are going to put all their heads together to look at a bug or something,” she said.

She recommends skipping indoor play dates for now even if all the parents are vaccinated.