For Kids And Teens, The Coronavirus Means No Sleepovers

Mar 27, 2020

For this week's Bubbler Talk, we answer a question from a mom of two teen kids. She wanted to know if she could send her kids to their friends’ houses, including for sleepovers. Her take was no, but friends and family members thought it could be fine.

So did her kids, although to them she may have sounded like a character from the Peanuts comic strip.

The mom asked us to investigate. Turns out, she was right.

“A sleepover would make it nearly impossible for individuals in your family to stay more than 6 feet away from individuals in another family. And because we know that there's asymptomatic spread of the virus, we all have to pretend as if we have the virus," Jeff Pothof says. He's the chief quality and safety officer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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Pothof says that while the coronavirus might not seem that threatening to some, it really is.

“I think what happens there is most of the things in life we deal with are linear. So things increase in a linear fashion, and with infectious diseases, the increase is logarithmic," he says. “The best way to explain that is if I have COVID-19, maybe I don't know it, I'm likely to infect three people. We know that the R0, or the infectivity rate, is each person who has it is likely to infect three people, if they just kind of do their normal thing. Then those three people, they each infect three more people. So it's not like you go one to two, two to three, you go one to three, three to nine.”

The 2011 movie Contagion has a scene that explains R0 (pronounced R-naught):

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Pothof says with this pattern of spread, starting with just one person, can result in thousands of people getting the coronavirus.

In order to prevent high numbers of infection, Gov. Tony Evers enacted a safer-at-home order that went into effect Wednesday. He also closed non-essential businesses.

And Evers even mentioned that sleepovers and other get-togethers are a no-go during the coronavirus pandemic. “Unfortunately that means no potlucks, no playdates, and no dinner parties,” he said.

But for parents and kids, the struggle is real. Kids are bored at home, they might feel safe or immune to the coronavirus because at present it’s seemingly not as deadly or severe for them.

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But youth immunity isn’t quite true. In fact, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a warning that the virus is behaving differently in the U.S., hospitalizing more young people than those hospitalized in China.

And Pothof says, think about it this way, even if you aren’t showing symptoms for the coronavirus, a simple daily cough could spread the germs. “All of us will actually cough a little bit, especially after we eat or something, secretions will be a little bit thicker. You have a couple coughs every once in a while or we'll sneeze,” he says.

Then it’s easy for people to touch something that’s been coughed or sneezed on, then touch their face without realizing it, allowing the virus to spread. Pothof continues: "And then if I touch my face or my mouth, I get that virus on my hand. And then wherever I put my hand — whether I'm taking someone's hand, or grabbing the doorknob, or touching a surface, touching fruit at the grocery store —I've left that virus behind."

So Pothof says we all have to find ways to entertain ourselves that don’t involve putting us in close contact with others. He says that can be especially hard for kids who thrive on getting together.

“My wife and our two young girls will go for a walk in the neighborhood, and we'll see neighbors but, you know, we might be in the street and they'll be in their driveway 30 feet away. We might have to talk a little bit louder but at least it's a little bit of human interaction. But being much closer than 6 feet from other people isn't recommended, so that makes, you know, even practicing sports and things like that really difficult to do right now,” says Pothof.

However, he says playing ball in your private backyard with family members is fine. He says it’s impossible to stay 6 feet away from family, so doctors aren’t expecting that.

For those of us who don’t live with family or friends, state human services secretary-designee Andrea Palm recommends that we limit our daily interactions to the same five people.

So choose your five and stay inside … or go outdoors, keeping a safe 6-foot distance between yourself and others.

During this pandemic, WUWM's Bubbler Talk is focusing on the coronavirus and its impact on the Milwaukee area. If you have a question, submit it below.

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