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Doctor: ‘We didn’t close schools so we could all hang out’

A pediatrician in Maryland is reminding parents and children that cancelled school means it's a time to practice social distancing, not to schedule playdates. (Photo: Getty Images)

A pediatrician in Maryland is warning parents and children that during this time of uncertainty and social distancing, it is not a time to schedule play dates.

With schools in Utah being closed for the next two weeks, this poses challenges to parents on what they’re going to do with their kids during this time.

This Maryland pediatrician, Steve Silvestro, has one answer: No playdates.

“It’s not an answer any of us parents (and I’m one, too!) really want to hear, but it’s the right answer,” Silvestro said in a blog post.

“And those who follow my podcast and blog know that I’m usually one to play things down, to quiet the alarms—but not this time.”

Spread of COVID-19

Silvestro says the spread of the virus is expected to be massive because the virus is sneaky in how it is transmitted. Even though several people who catch the virus will be fine, that’s not the case for everyone.

Why does it spread so easily?

  • Because the virus is new, our immune systems don’t have natural defenses against it yet
  • Many people may have mild symptoms — or sometimes none at all — but can still infect others
  • You’re usually contagious five days before developing symptoms, which means you can spread it before you know you have it
  • On average, an infected person will infect two to four others

Because of these factors, Marc Lipsitch — an epidemiologist from Harvard — said it’s expected 40-70% of the world population will be infected with COVID-19 in the next year. On top of that, the CDC expects roughly 214 million Americans to become infected during the same time period.

But, Lipsitch said this doesn’t mean that everyone who is infected will experience severe illness.

“It’s likely that many will have mild disease, or may be asymptomatic,” he said in an interview with The Atlantic.

Just like the flu — which can be life-threatening to those with chronic health conditions — COVID-19 may pass over others without requiring medical care.

And while the severity of symptoms may vary, young people are likely to come out of the illness just fine.

Why practice social distancing then?

Silvestro says that while the death rate may be low, it still accounts for a large number of people.

“We health experts and communicators are trying to walk the line of letting folks know that most people shouldn’t personally panic,” he said. “While we also need to be sounding alarms and taking drastic steps as a society to prevent such an unthinkable tragedy.”

So, while school is being canceled, scheduling playdates during this time defeats the whole purpose, according to Silvestro.

“All of this basically means that in order to not have this sneaky, easily caught, deadly enough virus spread to 70% of the population, we need to spend time with our own germs and only our own germs,” he said.

When COVID-19 was first diagnosed in the U.S., the government attempted to isolate only those who were infected. However, this was found to be unsuccessful.

So, now society is calling on individuals to practice “social distancing” to keep everyone away from each other to prevent the spread. Especially from those who don’t know they’re sick yet.

That’s why different schools, churches and other large gatherings have been canceled.

Best practices if you do get together

Silvestro said he expects some groups may still want to get together during this time. And if so, he recommends keeping it to a small group — only inviting one family that you consider “your best friend family.” That way, he said, it will minimize the exposure.

Silvestro has a few tips if small groups do end up getting together:

  • No indoor playdates
  • No indoor crowded activities, like trampoline arenas or bounce houses, even if they’re still open
  • When outdoors, don’t play on playground equipment
  • Don’t wrestle or jump on each other
  • Outdoor playdates otherwise likely okay for general play—at least for now
  • Avoid crowded outdoor activities (ice skating rinks, etc.)