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Amid coronavirus spread, can kids have playdates? Here's why a doctor says no

"This is going to be a marathon, not a sprint, so we really have to wrap our heads around this situation."
/ Source: TODAY

As coronavirus continues to spread through the U.S., parents are being asked to teach their kids from home and practice social distancing, staying away from others as much as possible to lessen the reach of COVID-19.

In a news conference yesterday, President Donald Trump revealed updated guidelines for Americans to follow over the next 15 days, recommending all Americans avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 people and homeschool when possible.

New guidelines announced by President Donald Trump yesterday may have parents asking if it's safe to schedule playdates for kids amid coronavirus spread. Miguel Sanz / Getty Images

As parents attempt to homeschool amidst kids' complaints of being bored, they may ask whether or not it's still OK for kids to have small playdates with other friends. Manasa Mantravadi, a pediatrician at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, Indiana, says no.

"Not in person at least," Mantravadi explained. "This virus is highly contagious and may show minimal to no symptoms in healthy individuals and children, but can then be transmitted and cause severe illness and even death in vulnerable populations like the elderly and those with chronic conditions."

Mantravadi cautions that most children on a play date aren't able to abide by the Center for Disease Control's "six-foot rule," maintaining a safe distance from others to avoid spreading or catching coronavirus.

"It's just not worth the risk in our society," said Mantravadi. "Social distancing is the most critical and important factor that we, as parents, can control during this COVID-19 outbreak."

Kathy Bergin, a lawyer in Ithaca, New York, recently canceled a playdate her sons, ages 8 and 6, had planned, out of what she calls "an abundance of caution" and a desire not to bring coronavirus into their home, which they share with her father-in-law.

Bergin tweeted about her decision to cancel the outing, encouraging others to also help "flatten the curve" by practicing social distancing.

Bergin says the other parents involved in the playdate agreed that cancelling was the best decision.

"We live right by the school, so we can head up to the soccer field any time to run off some steam," Bergin told TODAY Parents. "Other kids play there, too, but we don't meet up in large groups or play on the metal gym equipment. It's an open-air field, so we're comfortable with that for now, but if a directive came out telling us to do something else, we'd follow it as much as possible."

Kathy Bergin with her husband, Dan, and her sons, Kieran, 8, and Kai, 6.Kathy Bergin

One solution for kids who are antsy to spend time with friends: Virtual playdates. Many families are banding together with classmates and cousins for group FaceTimes, Facebook messenger chats, Skype sessions, Google hangouts and Zooms.

"We just scheduled some virtual playdates with friends and set themes," said Mantravadi. "My kids will be playing Uno and Spot It card games with friends, my daughter and her friends plan to teach each other a new dance they made up an at the end perform it all together with music and my son and his friends are going to invent a never-before-seen new sport, coming up with a point system and rules."

And then there's the ultimate old-school solution: Snail mail. "We also wrote a lot of letters to our family members and will send one a week, so we are creating a pen pal system of friends and family as part of our new normal," said Mantravadi.

Mantravadi, who's also the founder of Ahimsa, a line of dinnerware for kids, said that when considering whether or not to hold playdates or venture out into public places, it's important to ask yourself if you want to pose a serious risk to your community.

"There are so many things beyond our control, but staying home and limiting movement within society is something we can control," said Mantravadi. "This is going to be a marathon, not a sprint, so we really have to wrap our heads around this situation. We have to do the best we can as parents to provide a new normal for our children."

So what does Mantravadi, a mom of three, tell her own kids about preventing the spread of COVID-19?

"I reassure them that things may look a bit different for some time because we have to stay apart in order to protect each other," she said. "In a challenging time, we have the opportunity to teach our children some wonderful things. We can model good behavior by showing empathy and support to those who are sick. We can engage our children in helping support those who are impacted by the ripple effects of this pandemic, like donating to local food pantries or organizations which provide healthy meals to children impacted by poverty and hunger."

"We can teach them that we are stronger together, even when we must remain apart."