A girl stands with a set of hula-hoops over her arm while playing an indoor sport.

Fourth grader Theresa holds a set of hula hoops during an after school program. 

What to Know When Weighing the Risks of Winter Activities for Kids

This summer, many families were able to enjoy a wide array of outdoor activities, from bike riding to building sand castles at the beach, while still practicing the recommended social distancing to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
As summer turns into fall and then winter, however, many family-friendly activities typically transition indoors. Dropping and possibly freezing temperatures as well as snow, ice and wind give good cause for both staying and playing inside. However, experts warn that enclosed spaces lead to an increased risk of COVID transmission. 
Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) point towards avoiding indoor spaces as much as possible, particularly ones that aren’t well ventilated, to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Here, our experts explain what to consider when weighing the risks of winter activities during COVID.

The 4 risk factors of winter activities to consider

There is no such thing as a zero-risk activity right now. However, the level of risk that accompanies each winter activity does vary based on four factors: space, people, time and place.

“The highest risk of transmission involves enclosed spaces where people are crowded together closely for a long period of time," says Eric Starbuck, DRPH, MPH, Advisor for Child Health and Pandemic Preparedness at Save the Children.

"It’s also essential to consider the risk within your own family, and what could happen if a child does become infected and brings the virus home. It makes sense to be much more careful in families with high-risk individuals, even if the child themselves is at a lower risk.”

Starbuck also notes the single most important consideration when planning winter activities for kids is the transmission rate in the area.

Types of winter activities for kids: low to high-risk

Low Risk-to-Medium Risk — Outdoor sports with low-contact, walking, sledding, ice skating and skiing.

Outdoor activities carry a lower risk due to the ability for fresh air to circulate. Sports that allow for social distancing and no shared equipment carry lower risk factors. 

Spending time outdoors also offers other benefits for children, especially during the dark winter days. Shorter days and waking up on dark mornings may find some children feeling the "winter blues."

Whenever possible and even if only for short increments of time, it's a good idea to get outside while maintaining social distancing throughout fall and winter. 

Medium Risk-to-High Risk — Outdoor sports with close contact, indoor team sports with low contact, gymnastics, swimming, bowling and indoor mini-golf.

Indoor sports that involve close, sustained contact, but with protective equipment in place that may reduce the risk of transmission still carry a medium-to-high risk due to the amount of time spent in an enclosed space.

What's more, sports or activities that use equipment or supplies that can’t be cleaned between participants carry an increased risk.

High Risk — Indoor sports with close contact, indoor movie theatres, shopping malls, karaoke and arcades.

Winter activities that involve close, sustained contact without a significant protective barrier are considered high risk. Shared use of equipment or supplies that can't be cleaned between contact also puts the activities in a high-risk zone.

A high probability that respiratory droplets will be transmitted between participants also makes these activities fall in the high-risk category.

Considering winter 2020 is about 89 days long, there will be plenty of time to try new family-friendly activities. Preparing now for how to handle shorter days and colder temperatures can help children with the transition

Practicing good hygiene is the best way to prevent illness

As always, practicing good hygiene is the best way to help stop the spread of illness. Winter 2020 is the first time in history children face the possibility of getting both the flu and Covid-19.

That's why it's more important than ever for children to receive the flu vaccine this year.


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