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Quarantine is Ending. How Do You Safely Re-enter the World?

Jamie Sumner
Special needs mom, author and blogger
06/24/20  2:32 PM PST

It’s important to have family rules when it comes to ending quarantine and re-integrating safely back into society. Here are a few things to consider…

Remember when the world shut down? Remember when school started summer break three months early? Remember when “non-essential” businesses closed their doors and playgrounds took down their swings and we all wore masks and kept six feet apart and cooked breakfast, lunch and dinner? Of course you do. It was just yesterday, or, depending on where you live, it may still look very much like this. In our area in the south, things have started to re-open and to be honest, I’m not sure I’m okay with it.

When everything shut down to slow the growth curve of COVID-19, there were state and county mandates with policies involving everything from paid sick leave and bans on large gatherings to mandatory quarantine. It felt chaotic and random at first and then somehow we settled into a system. Re-opening feels a lot like beginning all over again. Because there are no rules or regulations on a national level, states are left to their own devices to determine when and how society should begin to co-mingle again.

If you are a parent, as I am, to a child with special needs, this wobbly feeling of uncertainty is disorienting. You want to ground yourself in solid protocols set forth by the experts, but as that is not immediately forthcoming, you have to be the one to decide what to do in regard to your family’s health and safety. My kids see their friends outside and hear the jingle of the ice cream truck and see the swings back up at the park. Naturally, they have questions. Can we ride our bikes? Do we still have to wear masks? Can we go to the zoo? To a restaurant? To camp?

Despite or perhaps because of the varying degree of governmental regulation, it’s important to have family rules when it comes to re-integrating safely back into society. Here are a few things to consider:

1. What are safe areas to play?

This is perhaps the hardest question to answer as every family has its own rules and what seems fine for your neighbor might not be for you. Because the risk of infection is less high outdoors, we’ve decided to allow our kids to play with their friends, but they can’t go in other people’s homes. It’s a happy compromise. We have also decided, for now at least, to continue to avoid public parks where we can’t determine when play equipment was last cleaned.

2. What protocols do places such as restaurants, grocery stores, book stores, etc. need to follow for us to decide they are safe?

We set a few rules here. Namely, staff still need to wear masks and gloves, capacity must be limited and the signage for safety protocols clear. For restaurants, we still prefer takeaway, but if we are going to dine there, we choose outdoor seating and we will wear our masks unless we are eating. Is it annoying to wear a mask everywhere we go? Yes. But this too is a life lesson: health and safety are more important than personal convenience.

3. When is it okay to touch someone I don’t live with?

This is the hardest one for us, as our son with special needs is a very tactile kid. He loves hugs and blows kisses. His friends line up to push his wheelchair and he wants to high five everyone. Because of this, we have taught all our kids the “air high five” which looks exactly like what it sounds like: a high five you whiff on purpose. It’s funny and it also works to keep them from actually touching others. If you have a kid like mine who needs that touch, consider letting them carry a security object with them when you’re out, whether that be a blanket, stuffed animal, book, or other sensory stimulus item that can satisfy that need. It’s going to take a great deal of reconditioning for all of us to resist the impulse to shake hands or hug, but this, just like all the rest, is part of our new normal.

Whenever and however you decide to transition back into society, do what feels safest and the least anxiety-producing. Like any other parenting choice, it doesn’t matter what the rest of the world thinks – you’re the only one who knows what’s right for your family.

special needs parents

Jamie Sumner is a special needs mom, author and blogger.

Discover her new book, Unbound: Finding Freedom from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood.

Read her blog, The Mom Gene.

Follow her on Facebook.


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