The Post-COVID-19 Playdate Checklist Every Parent Needs

Before your family socializes post-pandemic, there are new rules to know. Follow these pediatrician-approved tips to ensure the safest playdates possible.

With a light at the end of the tunnel, thanks to widely-available vaccines and other promising pandemic-related progress, many Americans are going back out into the world again. We're all trying to figure out what's OK and which of the ever-changing guidelines will keep our families healthy.

No one likes the "new normal" this pandemic has created, but it's better to be safe than sorry when socializing with others—especially when it comes to our kids.

According to experts, the relative safety of playdates has a lot to do with everyone's vaccination status and the precautions they are taking in their everyday lives. With children under 5 still not eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, families with young kids may continue to find themselves in a more difficult position in terms of socializing than families with older, vaccinated children.

If you're going to organize a playdate, it's still safest to encourage kids to stay outside and keep it small (think one or two kids, max), says Dorota A. Szczepaniak, M.D., a pediatrician at Riley Children's Health in Indianapolis.

Keep in mind that families with children who are not vaccinated, immunocompromised, or have chronic medical conditions should take extra precautions—especially when indoors in public spaces—because they may be at a higher risk of developing severe complications from COVID-19.

If your child is healthy and itching to play with their friends—and we know you're probably craving a little adult interaction, too—follow this pediatrician-approved checklist before your next get-together. Have fun, be safe, and wash your hands!

Your Pre-Playdate Checklist

1. Make plans with friends or family you trust.

In these uncertain times, you only have control over so much. You can stay up-to-date on your COVID-19 vaccines, wear masks, and make sure your family washes their hands frequently, but there's no way to know what others are doing. That's why you should consider only making plans with family and friends you know are taking the same precautions you are. This approach may help you feel a little more relaxed when you get together.

"You do not have to be in complete agreement as long as you can come to an understanding for your kids," says Snehal Doshi, M.D., a board-certified pediatrician and CEO at Millennium Neonatology in Charlotte, North Carolina. "For example, if one parent doesn't wear masks and goes everywhere, and the other family wears masks all the time, it will be very hard for their children to play together because of the risk profile of the first family."

Depending on your comfort level, you might even want to ask about how your friends or family have been socializing lately and whether they have traveled or interacted in any large groups. These are all good questions to consider when making plans to make sure you have your bases covered before your outing.

2. Check how everyone's feeling.

Has anyone in either house had a fever (100.4 and over), cough, sneeze, runny nose, or been feeling tired or achy? Has anyone been near someone with COVID-19 in the past 14 days? If anyone answers "yes," it's best to reschedule or cancel.

Sure, it's a little awkward, but Dr. Szczepaniak agrees that "it will be best if all the parents agree on the rules ahead of time."

If anyone has been exposed to COVID-19 or has tested positive, follow the CDC's recommendations for quarantine and isolation, which include getting tested and taking extra precautions until 10 full days after the initial exposure, first symptoms, or positive test result. After that, it will be up to both families' comfort levels to decide when to get together again.

3. Plan an outdoor outing.

Encourage outside play whenever possible, which allows fresh air to limit the spread of germs. In general, people don't have to wear masks when outside unless they wish to, according to the CDC.

Bike riding and sidewalk chalk are fun activities, but remember to keep in mind the usual summer safety precautions if your kids will be playing in a pool or on a trampoline, advises Dr. Szczepaniak.

4. Pack the essentials.

Don't forget hand sanitizer, wipes, and disinfectant spray—better to be safe and bring it all with you. And if you do plan to head indoors in a public place, don't forget masks for anyone 2 and up, especially in areas with high COVID-19 community levels.

Be sure to have hand-washing or sanitizing breaks before coming inside or eating. You may even choose to bring individually wrapped snacks so the kids don't have to share. Though normally you'd encourage sharing, you'll want to minimize it when it could also mean sharing germs.

5. Practice social distancing ahead of time.

If anyone in your family is at especially high risk, remind your kids that it's still a good idea to keep a distance from others in public spaces. If you plan to meet up in a public space like a park or playground, Dr. Doshi suggests practicing with pool noodles or hula hoops at home ahead of time to help kids understand how long 6 feet actually is.

On the day of the playdate, you may wish for your child to keep their distance from others, even if you're comfortable with them having close contact with their designated playmate. Look for ways to encourage distance such as defining their play space with a blanket or playmat and bringing your own toys for the kids to play with rather than using shared public play equipment.

6. Get everyone's contact information.

In the case that someone develops symptoms after the playdate, make sure you're ready to set up a phone chain to notify the group ASAP.

"Try and keep your social circle or bubble small," says Dr. Doshi. "That way if someone gets sick, it is easier to trace."

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