By Dr. Rachel Herlihy, CDPHE
It’s Summer in Colorado! The sun is shining, hikers are hiking, and baseballers are balling. But the change in seasons doesn’t just bring warmer weather. Summer ‘21 also brings the promise of widespread vaccine availability and a return to normal in many parts of our lives.
However, in many ways, Colorado is just at the beginning of our campaign to make sure all members of our family are protected by the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines. The Pfizer vaccine was recently approved for children aged 12 to 15. No vaccine is currently approved for children under age 12, and it may be many months until younger kids can get vaccinated. Additionally, many children aged 16 to 18 who have received the vaccine have only received a single dose. Compared to adults, not as many children and young adolescents are protected from COVID-19.
Ultimately, vaccinating Colorado’s children will be key to ending the pandemic. Scientific evidence shows that children and adolescents can and do get sick with COVID-19. They are also capable of spreading the virus to others. This can include transmission to other unvaccinated children, as well adults who are not able to be vaccinated. And while children may have milder symptoms overall, many hundreds of children and adolescents in the US have died of COVID-19, and many more are at risk for lingering symptoms or complications.
If you are fully vaccinated and raising children who are not yet vaccinated, you may be wondering what is safe for your family. What activities should families bring their children to, and how should parents and guardians consider the very real risks of COVID-19 when choosing summer activities?
Choosing safer activities
The best thing parents can do to protect themselves, their children, and their communities is to get vaccinated against COVID-19, and to get their children vaccinated as soon as they are eligible. Vaccinated people are unlikely to get sick with COVID-19 or spread it to others. Vaccination is the path back to normal for ourselves and our children this year. Today, all Coloradans aged 12 and older can get vaccinated. CDPHE has many resources to answer your questions about protecting your families and connect you with a vaccine provider.
As you make choices about activities for your family, think about these questions:
- What are the risks inherent to the activity?
- Can I make the activity safer?
- Should I choose another, lower risk activity?
- What do I know about the vaccination status of the people who will be there?
Some activities are inherently low risk. In general, outdoor activities are safer than indoor activities. Exploring the outdoors on a hike or playing in a public park are generally very safe things for families to do.
Additionally, some practices can make riskier activities safer. One of the easiest ways to make an activity safer is for unvaccinated children age 2 and older to wear a mask. If accompanying adults wear a mask as well, this may help to normalize and encourage mask-wearing for children. While mask-wearing doesn’t eliminate risk to children, it can reduce it substantially. The CDC has a useful guide about when masks should be worn by both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
In some cases, it can be easy to know if others are vaccinated, such as when you are socializing with family members and close friends. If all the other attendees at an activity are vaccinated, the risk to unvaccinated children is low! In other contexts, such as busy indoor play centers, it can be hard or impossible to know who might be vaccinated, and the risk is higher. Remember: Even children without clear signs of illness may be contagious and spread COVID-19 to others, including vulnerable adults.
Many lucky children will be attending summer camps in the coming months. Summer camps offer opportunities for outdoor recreation, arts and crafts, making friends, and lifelong memories. Colorado camps will be working hard to keep campers safe by focusing on outdoor activities and programming. Many camps will be keeping campers in small groups and asking campers to wear masks. Some will be asking campers to quarantine or get vaccinated or tested before coming to camp. Parents and guardians should familiarize themselves with the policies of their children’s camps and plan ahead to make sure they are prepared for the extra steps that may be required. While camp may still be a little different this summer, these practices are designed to keep campers safe and the fun uninterrupted.
Have a great summer!
The summer can be a time when children and their families take advantage of the warmer weather to spend time together outdoors, explore new activities and interests, and enjoy a change from the routines of the school year. We hope all Coloradans have a fantastic next few months, and that our shared commitment to looking out for one another makes this summer a safe, enjoyable season.