Answers to questions parents may have concerning the numerous instructions regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19).
March 26, 2020 | Isolated and confined, families in Québec are going through an unprecedented situation that requires adjustments and compromises to everyday life. Instructions from the authorities regarding our confinement and social distancing evolve on a daily basis. Here’s what you should keep in mind.
The information presented here was current as of June 1, 2020.
Can my child go play at a friend’s house or have a friend over at ours?
Since the COVID-19 situation evolves very rapidly, the information presented here can change.
No, if it is in the house. “This is an important message: everyone must stay home to minimize contagion risks,” says Dr. Dea. You cannot organize a dinner with two or three friends, even if no one just came back from a trip or shows no symptoms. That would be considered an indoor gathering and, for the time being, they are prohibited in Québec.
Since May 22, outdoor gatherings of 10 people maximum are allowed as long as a distance of at least two metres is maintained between those people who are not from the same household. So your child can play outside with his friend. The physical distance of two metres should be respected as much as possible between them.
Good to know: you can be infected with the virus and have very mild or no symptoms (cough, fever, sudden loss of sense of smell or taste, difficulty breathing). However, it is at the onset of the disease that the virus is the most contagious.
Can I go for a walk with my children?
Yes. It is even encouraged by public health authorities. “It is good for your morale and it helps us get through this, especially those of us who have children,” Dr. Dea says. It is very important to be vigilant and observe social distancing instructions: if you come across other people, you must maintain a distance of two metres (6 and a half feet) between them and you at all times. It is important to remember that this does not apply to the members of a family; in other words, when you go for a walk, the members of your family do not have to observe this two-metre rule.
However, someone with COVID-19-like symptoms (cough, fever, sudden loss of sense of smell or taste, difficulty breathing) should not go for a walk. The same goes for anyone who came back from a trip less than 14 days ago: they must stay at home. If they do not display COVID-19-related symptoms and wish to get some fresh air, they are required to stay in a private place like their balcony or backyard.
Why is the two-metre rule important?
The virus causing the COVID-19 is transmitted by water droplets that are projected when an infected person coughs or sneezes. “We have evaluated that the projection distance of those droplets is two metres or less,” says Dr. Catherine Dea, a doctor specializing in public health and preventive medicine. “This is why we recommend to always keep two metres away from other people.” This type of coronavirus, however, does not remain in suspension in the air (airborne transmission) such as is the case of tuberculosis or measles.
Are there any other measures I should apply when I go outside?
It is very important to wash your hands before exiting your home and as soon as you walk back in. “It is the most efficient way to limit the spread of this virus,” says Dr. Dea. “Avoid direct contact with others, do not touch your face and wash your hands frequently.”
My family is reconstituted. What rules should we observe? How do I manage our shared custody?
It is important that each family follows the same instructions and recommendations as those issued to the general population: stay home at all times (you should only go out to get groceries, go to the pharmacy or get a breath of fresh air), apply social distancing (two metres) and wash your hands frequently.
Children can see their parents according to their regular shared custody schedule. “We have not reached a point where shared custody will be prohibited,” Dr. Dea explains. “If, however, one of the family members starts displaying symptoms, even if they are very mild, a child should not go from one house to the other. You should skip the planned visit until all symptoms have disappeared.”
During one of his press conferences, Dr. Horacio Arruda, Québec’s national director of public health, said that it is important that parents communicate about what is going on and apply the same precaution measures. “It is a question of judgment,” he says. “It is a question that parents need to manage together. There is no magic formula.”
Note that extreme vigilance should be exercised to watch for the apparition of COVID-19-like symptoms (cough, fever, sudden loss of sense of smell or taste, difficulty breathing). Why? To react quickly in order to protect the other members of both families. “We must remember that the contagiousness period is at its peak when the symptoms are still mild,” Dr. Dea insists.
Custody or access rights for children living in shelters for victims of domestic violence
In order to avoid the propagation of COVID-19 in shelters for victims of domestic violence, the Québec government has temporarily suspended the custody and access rights of parents when the other parent of a child lives in such a shelter.
It remains important, however, that the child and the parent whose rights have been suspended remain in contact, whenever possible, by any appropriate means (e.g., technological) to maintain their relationship.
This suspension affects all custody or access rights, whether they are established by a court decision or an agreement. This measure ends when the parent living in a shelter leaves the facility or when a court orders it.
My ex-partner and I do not live in the same region. Can we still maintain our shared custody schedule?
Yes. Authorities recommend limiting travel to minimize the spread of the virus. However, a separated parent can drive their child to the other parent’s place as long as they observe the rules (hand-washing, social distancing from the other family), and this is true even if one parent lives in a region that has been “closed” by the government because of the coronavirus. This travel exception is applicable both for parents with a custody order and those who simply have an agreement. “What we are trying to do is limit direct contacts, says Dr. Dea, but we are not at the point where we will impose restrictions on families whose parents are separated.”
To find out more:
Sources : Décret sur l’adoption de l’état d’urgence sanitaire, Décret sur l’interdiction de tout rassemblement intérieur et extérieur, Gouvernement du Québec, La Presse, Gouvernement du Québec, La Presse, Éducaloi, Radio-Canada and La Presse
Maude Goyer — Naître et grandir
Photos: GettyImages/AleksandarNakic and Naître et grandir