With theme parks across the country relaxing their Covid-19 prevention rules, many parents might be wondering if it is safe to bring their young children to a theme park this summer.
Safe, effective vaccinations are now protecting millions of Americans over age 12, clearing the way for theme parks and other destinations to resume more normal operations. But vaccinations are not yet approved and available for children under 12. That leaves kids potentially vulnerable as Covid infection rates remain high among non-vaccinated people in many communities. The lack of vaccines also means that kids can continue to be vectors for the spread of the disease and its many emerging variants.
Many theme parks are asking non-vaccinated guests to wear masks to help prevent Covid's spread. But it would be foolish for responsible parents to trust that all non-vaccinated people will abide by that request - especially when so many of the adults who have refused to get vaccinated also have been the trying to get out wearing masks during this pandemic. If a venue is not requiring proof of vaccination or a recent negative Covid test for admission, one should continue to assume that there's higher risk you that will encounter a Covid-infected person there.
So how can you protect your children when people are not wearing masks and physical distancing is no longer being enforced?
Risk management is one of the reasons why we were supposed to learn math in school. The better you understand the probabilities involved, the more effectively you can judge the risk. An unvaccinated person - such as a child - will be safest at a destination that is either requiring proof of vaccination or negative Covid tests, or that is continuing to enforce safety measures such as mandatory mask usage and physical distancing. Beyond that, being outdoors is safer than being indoors, thanks to air circulation minimizing the risk of contracting this airborne virus. Moving around is better than remaining in one place, where you might have extended contact with an infected person. And visiting communities with low Covid infection rates is better than visiting communities where the disease is spreading faster.
All together, a theme park with all outdoor rides would probably be a relatively safe destination to visit this summer, especially in a state such as California where Covid rates remain low. Kids can further protect themselves by wearing an N95 or other high-quality, well-fitted, multi-layer mask during their visit. If you are worried about meal times, consider visiting the park just in the morning or the afternoon, then eating lunch and dinner somewhere you can remain away from people whom you do not know are safe to be around.
The judgment gets tricker at parks with many indoor attractions and restaurants, such as those found at Disney and Universal. If a crowded venue enforces mandatory mask use indoors - or requires proof of vaccination to take off a mask - that reduces risk. But having a bunch of unmasked people indoors somewhere where there's no required proof of vaccination increases it.
It's all probability, though, so there is no definitive answer here. Ultimately, it's up to parents to make a judgment call. Are you comfortable with your child's mask use protecting them indoors or in crowded outdoor places this summer? Or would you prefer to look for vacation destinations that are requiring proof or vaccination or negative Covid tests to reduce the risk of infection? Or do less-crowded destinations appeal more this summer, as you wait for the government to approve use of Covid vaccines for children under age 12? (That decision is expected this fall.)
I hope that all Theme Park Insider readers and theme park fans get vaccinated as soon as possible, so we can help make this question moot by putting Covid in the past. In the United States, vaccines are free and widely available to everyone ages 12 and older. They are safe and effective. Yes, the second-dose side effects can knock some people on their rear for a day, as their immune systems step up a gear. But it's easier now to get a second-dose appointment on a Friday or Saturday so that you've got the weekend to recover. And many states and communities are offering financial incentives to get vaccinated. (If I win California's big $1.5 million vaccine lottery, I will buy free Butterbeers for 1,000 guests at Universal Studios Hollywood one day, followed by free Dole Whips for 1,000 at Disneyland the next.)
I also hope that all parents soon will be able to get their kids vaccinated, as well. Don't listen to people who've been wrong about this pandemic from the beginning and who continue to insist that there's no need to get vaccinated or that there's no risk to kids. Less risk is not no risk, and parents have every right to hold off on a theme park visit this summer, if they think that is the safest thing for their family.
The parks will be there this Christmas and next year. And they'll be ever better than ever then, too.
* * *
We wanted you to read this article before we make our newsletter pitch, unlike so many other websites. If you appreciate that - and our approach to covering theme park news - please sign up for our free, twice-a-week email newsletter. Thank you.
This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.