This was published in late March 2020, but the most current guidance can be found on the updated blog published here.
MARCH 23, 2020 — Communities across Alaska are now following hunker-down and shelter-in-place guidelines that have led to a change in how kids should play to prevent the spread of coronavirus, also called COVID-19. In these communities, families should avoid indoor play dates. They should prioritize playing outdoors with family only. Doing an outdoor activity in the same area with a small group of non-family members would be OK only if you could ensure non-family members stayed at least 6 feet away.
Louisa Castrodale, epidemiologist with Alaska’s Division of Public Health, updated answers to how families can still be active under these new guidelines. Castrodale also advised families to stay up to date with their community’s guidelines. Anchorage’s hunker-down guidelines, as an example, are explained online through these FAQs. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services is also updating its coronavirus information daily. Please stay informed by visiting coronavirus.alaska.gov.
Can children get out and play right now?
Children can definitely get outside and play right now, but they need to do it carefully. Activity is so important for kids’ physical health, and also for their mental health. Physical activity can help them feel better and reduce symptoms of anxiety and stress, which may be showing up during this challenging time.
Children can run around, hike, bike, ice skate, sled, cross country ski and do other activities as long as the weather and conditions allow. The most important recommendation is to give each other space while doing these activities. Spread yourselves out and maintain 6 feet of distance from people other than family members.
Should families avoid play dates in communities with hunker-down and shelter-in-place guidelines?
The Municipality of Anchorage has a hunker-down guideline in place that states people should not invite friends or family members to their homes for a visit.
“What that means is families should avoid indoor play dates in communities with hunker-down and shelter-in-place guidelines,” Castrodale said.
“We recognize this is really hard for kids who feel isolated and can be stressful, but it’s needed for the time being to limit the potential spreading of illness.”
Families should prioritize playing outside with their family members. If non-family members are playing in the same area, they need to stay at least 6 feet away. This may be difficult for families with little children who are too young to understand how to maintain a safe distance from others, Castrodale said.
If you play in the same areas as other families, choose activities that are easier to do with distance – like hiking and biking. She also recommended avoiding activities that involve direct contact with non-family members, like football or tag.
“Contact sports are best to avoid right now,” she said.
Castrodale recognized that it’s important for kids to stay connected with friends to reduce the feeling of isolation, but stressed that kids will need to maintain that connection virtually right now. She recommended apps like FaceTime or Skype or other online options for staying in touch with friends.
Should children avoid outdoor playgrounds?
Picking physical activities other than the playground right now is the best option. Playgrounds are a place where children will want to interact and it will be difficult to have them remain 6 feet from each other. It is also a place where parents could find themselves accidently gathering too closely with others.
Should children limit playing or socializing with grandparents or other adults over age 60?
Castrodale said it’s wonderful to support children’s relationships with grandparents and older adults, but physical interaction between them right now should be limited or avoided. People 60 and older and those with chronic medical conditions, like heart disease and diabetes, face the highest chances for serious health problems related to coronavirus.
“Part of this idea of social distancing is to protect our most vulnerable folks,” Castrodale said.
So while it’s sad to limit face-to-face interactions with older loved ones, that might be the best thing for their health right now. Instead, use apps like FaceTime or Skype to keep your children and grandparents in contact.
“Right now, the best way to love grandma is to send her a nice note, rather than to see her in person,” Castrodale said.
What can your family do to prevent the spread of illness?
Kids and parents should do several things to prevent getting and spreading illness:
- Wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. That’s the amount of time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song from start to finish twice. If water is not available, use a hand sanitizer that’s made with at least 60% alcohol.
- Cover their own mouths and nose when coughing or sneezing, either through coughing into their elbows or ideally using a tissue. Then, immediately throw the tissue away and wash their hands.
- Avoid touching their faces, especially with unwashed hands. That includes rubbing eyes or touching noses or mouths.
- Don’t share cups, water bottles, utensils or food.
- Parents can frequently clean and disinfect surfaces that kids touch a lot, like doorknobs and toys. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published recommendations for cleaning and disinfecting homes with suspected or confirmed coronavirus infections. This webpage includes a section for routine cleaning of households that states families can use household cleaners and EPA-registered disinfectants on frequently touched surfaces.
- Children and adults should stay home when they have a fever (100.4°F or higher), are coughing or are short of breath. These are some of the symptoms of coronavirus, also called COVID-19. Families also should follow guidelines about limiting contact with others who have recently traveled outside Alaska. These are found under "COVID-19 Health Alerts and Mandates" on coronavirus.alaska.gov.
What should you do if your child becomes sick?
Castrodale said the most important thing to remember is to keep sick children inside the home and away from others, including siblings.
“Anyone who is sick needs to be isolated,” she said. Of course, a parent will need to provide care for that child, but siblings and others should be separated as much as possible. If parents believe the child needs medical care, they should call their provider before going in to the clinic, she said.
The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services is updating its coronavirus information every day. Please stay informed by visiting coronavirus.alaska.gov.