The Coronavirus – Playdate Etiquette 101

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“Now that museums, public libraries, Ocean Park, Disneyland, and other LCSD facilities are closed, what am I going to do with my child?!”

Dr Joyce Lai offers some tips.

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It is influenza season and the novel coronavirus from Wuhan, China has been stirring talk globally. The following is a general protocol, for parents who plan to set up playdates to occupy and entertain their kids during these off-school days.

What are my responsibilities before bringing my child to a playdate?

Check your child’s temperature before leaving home (Fever is >/=38’C) and ensure your child is feeling well. It is always better to err on the side of caution than to potentially transmit illnesses to others or have your child’s condition worsen as a result of catching other viruses.

Teach them to cover their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. They should use their elbows in the absence of a tissue, as they are more likely to touch objects or people with their hands.

Explain why they should not share cups/utensils/food. Items which have had direct contact with someone’s mouth could be contaminated with harmful bacteria and viruses.

Remind your children to wash their hands or ask for help washing their hands.

Handwashing (for 20 seconds) is vital upon entering someone’s home, after petting an animal or upon finishing a meal. Viruses do not have wings or feet. Viruses are carried by a sneeze or by a human hand into the eyes, nose or mouth to cause infection. Children typically do not wash their hands long enough, if at all. Therefore, making it fun can be a way of reinforcing good habits (e.g. Having them sing the “Happy Birthday song” to completion while washing).

If the hands are not visibly soiled, using a hand sanitizer is a good alternative. Have a hand sanitizer placed near their play area.

What are my responsibilities as a host for a playdate during this climate with the influenza and all?

The influenza bug is strongest during wintertime. But do remember that there are also stomach bugs (norovirus, rotavirus), other upper respiratory tract bugs (rhinovirus, adenovirus, parainfluenza virus, human metapneumovirus, respiratory syncytial virus, enterovirus), and then others (infectious mononucleosis or “kissing disease”, hand foot mouth disease) – just to name a few!

As a host, you are responsible for wiping down common surfaces before the playdate and after. Viruses and bacteria can live on surfaces for an extended period of time. This can be combated by disinfecting areas and objects (eg. toys) that children will come into close contact with.

Also ensure you have a thermometer, plenty of hand sanitizer, and disposable paper towels (or a different towel for every child). Sharing the same towel can put germs back onto the hands that were just washed.

Depending on how close you are to the playdate’s parent, you may discuss a protocol for checking every child’s temperature before playtime just for transparency. This can be waived and based on an honour system as well.

Every child should wash their hands, and as a host, you should remind them from time to time how to do it diligently. While kids may know to wash their hands, it is very easy in the excitement that they forget or do it hurriedly.

Should I host indoor or outdoor playdates?

The play space should be well ventilated, as viruses spread faster in moist, stagnant air. Having good airflow and reducing dampness by opening the windows or taking play times outside will limit the spread of infectious viral particles. One may opt for a picnic at a park or hiking instead. If outdoor is not an option, then stay indoors and ensure no child has respiratory symptoms and that there is good air circulation. A private play area (e.g. home or clubhouse) with regular sanitization is ideal.

Have you had your flu vaccine?

Get the flu vaccine – While there is currently no vaccine for the novel coronavirus, it is still flu season. Children have less developed immune systems so they should receive the influenza vaccine to get protection.

My kid never remembers any of the above, any tips?

Repetition and awareness by both the attendee and the host will make for a safer playdate for all.

My kid was running a low-grade fever this morning but after a dose of paracetamol/ ibuprofen, it is down now. Can s/he still attend?

If your child took fever medications and the fever is controlled, after the medication effect is over (4-6 hours) the temperature could still rise again. Having a fever usually means the body is under attack. While the child may not be showing symptoms outwardly, s/he may already be infectious in their sneeze/ saliva, etc. They should stay at home.

My kid has some dry cough and runny nose, but I think it is allergies only. Can s/he still attend?

Asthma and nose allergies can give rise to similar symptoms as a common cold or a flu. Usually they have specific triggers, are seasonal and have a history of family members also having asthma, allergic rhinitis or eczema. They also do not accompany feelings of tiredness, muscle ache, sore throat, fever and sputum. Unlike an infection, they tend not to linger and have a deteriorating course. It is best to consult a doctor to get the correct diagnosis before attributing these symptoms to an allergy or asthma. If your child does have nose allergies and asthma, you should seek medical help for the many available options to control them. Allergies and asthma are definitely not contagious.

I have heard about eye goggles, showering when you get home, N95 masks, do I need to do all that?

N95 masks, goggles, and personal protective equipment are required for front line medical staff because they have to work in a very high-risk environment in close contact with confirmed or suspected cases. There is no harm in doing all of the above for you, but it must be done properly to be effective (e.g. N95 masks must pass a fit test). Back to the science: the route of infection is by droplets transmission. As long as you keep the hands clean and away from the face, wear a surgical mask when going to crowded places, and stay away from infectious individuals, it should be sufficient.


Parents have a collective duty to be responsible and accountable. Given the current situation surrounding the novel coronavirus from Wuhan, China and being in the midst of flu season, it is important to follow these common hygiene etiquettes and courtesies for both adults and children as a matter of health hygiene and precaution.

BIO – Dr Joyce Lai is a general practitioner in Hong Kong.

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