Having Fun Safely During COVID-19: A Guide for Parents

We are all learning to live with COVID-19.  We know how the virus spreads, and now we have safe and effective vaccines for children 5 years of age and older.  This is a hopeful time, as we start to go more places and do more things.  It can also be a stressful time to be the parent of a young child.  New activities can add to your family's risk of COVID-19 exposure.  Thinking about risk will help you choose activities that are fun and safe for your family.

How much risk is safe for your family?

Start by thinking about who lives in your home and their risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19.

  • Has everyone who is eligible been vaccinated and had the recommended booster?
  • Is anyone over 65 years old?
  • Does anyone have an illness that weakens their immune system?
  • Does your child have asthma or any other condition that puts them at higher risk?
  • Does anyone have a job that makes them more likely to get or spread COVID-19?

If you live with people who are already at high risk from COVID-19, you will need to choose activities that are less likely to expose you and your children to the virus.

Will people be vaccinated?

Any activity, in any location, will be safer if all eligible people are vaccinated against COVID-19.  Camps, sports teams, and other activities that require vaccines are safer choices.  When you plan a big family event, you can check with family members to know who is vaccinated ahead of time.

Will people be tested for COVID-19?

Not everyone can be vaccinated, and even vaccinated people can sometimes get COVID-19.  Testing adds another layer of safety, by identifying anyone who has COVID-19 before they can spread it to others.  One-time events may require a negative COVID-19 test to enter.  Ongoing activities like sports teams may require weekly testing.

What is the rate of COVID-19 in your local community?

Any activity will be riskier if you are around lots of people actively spreading COVID-19.  You can check the amount of COVID-19 spreading in the community by using a COVID tracker:


If the place you plan to visit has become a COVID-19 hot spot, you may want to change your plans.  If you do go, masking, distancing, and testing will help you stay safer.

Will we be outdoors, or indoors with good ventilation?

You are less likely to catch or spread COVID-19 when you are outdoors.  You can make indoor spaces safer by opening doors and windows and letting fresh air in, or filtering air through a ventilation system or a portable air filter.  Here are some examples of how to make a safer choice:

  • An outdoor birthday party is safer than an indoor one.
  • Swim lessons in an outdoor pool are safer than in an indoor pool.
  • Eating in a restaurant's outdoor seating is safer than eating inside a crowded restaurant.
  • A day trip to the zoo is safer than visiting an indoor aquarium.
  • A class held in a building with fresh air flow is better than in a building with stuffy, stale air.
Will people be wearing masks?

Any activity that can be done while wearing a mask is a safer choice, especially indoors.  Indoor sports like volleyball or basketball can be played while wearing masks.  While playing in bands and orchestras, children can wear special masks and use instrument covers.  When traveling in close quarters on crowded airplanes or buses, wear a mask to protect yourself, especially in areas with high COVID-19 spread.

Will there be crowds?

In crowded public spaces, especially indoors, COVID-19 virus can build up in the air around you.  Outdoors, you have space to spread out and keep your distance from others.  You can avoid crowded playgrounds or amusement parks by going at a less popular time.  When spending time with friends, your child can ride bikes, go to a beach or park, or play catch--activities that avoid crowding close together.

How important is the event to your child or your family?

Risk is not the only factor when deciding whether or not to do an activity.  Taking part in a coming-of-age ceremony, wedding, or memorial service rekindles vital bonds with your family and spiritual community.  Playing sports, joining clubs, and having play dates improves your child's physical, emotional, and mental health.  Your job may require you to work in person and enroll your child in a child care program.

There will always be risk in any activity.  Rather than trying to remove all COVID-19 risk from a given activity, focus on reducing risk.  Keep in mind that healthy children are at very low risk for severe illness or death from COVID-19.  You can lower your risk even more by getting your family vaccinated, wearing a face mask, and socializing outdoors, especially when there is a recent increase in COVID-19 cases in your community.


American Academy of Pediatrics (2021) Youth Sports and COVID-19: Understanding the Risks at https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/COVID-19/Pages/Youth-Sports-and-COVID-19-Understanding-the-Risks.aspx

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2021) Families with Vaccinated and Unvaccinated Members at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health/about-covid-19/caring-for-children/families.html 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2021) Safer Travel Tips for Families with Unvaccinated Children at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/travel-risk.html 

Emily Oster's ParentData Newsletter contains a useful discussion of risk assessment in the February 18 and August 19 editions from 2021. 


November 2021, UCSF California Childcare Health Program

This article was made possible with funding from the UCSF Chancellor's Fund.