Staying safe and sane when high risk for COVID-19

Safe family fun at Jeremy's Circle events summer 2021. (courtesy)
Safe family fun at Jeremy's Circle events summer 2021. (courtesy)

If you live in a household with small kids and someone high-risk, how do you stay sane and safe despite surging COVID-19 numbers?

The last two weeks of August – when nearly all of the kids’ structured activities have finished and young parents scramble to keep their kids busy – are nearly impossible even without COVID-19. The uncertainty, closures, and restrictions have already taken a significant toll on the kids. 

Jeremy’s Circle – a nonprofit supporting children in Israel coping with cancer or cancer loss in their young families – is balancing our mission to provide much-needed fun and community, with our moral obligation to not endanger the vulnerable families in any way. 

At the beginning of the summer, when COVID-19 seemed under control, we were thrilled to finally host our first in-person event following 18 months of virtual programming. We met at the Jerusalem Zoo. Several hundred of us gathered for a few hours – trying not to hug despite our happiness to finally see each other IRL and maintain a safe distance.

Midsummer, the COVID-19 numbers and anxiety began to rise again, along with talk of postponing the opening of the school year and a possible closure. We moved ahead with an event at the outdoor family activity-packed park Shvil Hatapuzim but with more caution around mask-wearing and food distribution than before. Many families gushed how much they needed this day with plenty of water-fun and shade. 

As August wore on, the government announced further restrictions regarding indoor and outdoor gatherings. Our planned trip to a museum on August 20 no longer felt safe and we changed to a fully outdoor venue, a private “extreme” park in Holon. Normally we publish the details of our events 2-3 weeks ahead of time but we waited, watching the numbers and the news. Our board was equally split between “we must offer a safe, fun escape for the families”, “we can’t take chances with their already fragile health” and “I am torn between the two”. 

We exchanged hundreds of WhatsApps as we tried to predict the evolving restrictions. Just ten days before the event, we agreed to move forward with cautionary steps:

  • Check continuously with the venue regarding the restrictions and their related obligations 
  • Warmly encourage everyone including the kids to have a “green pass” or negative test, and require it of anyone taking a Jeremy’s Circle bus to the event 
  • Hire extra buses to make sure we stay under 50% capacity, and require everyone on the bus to wear masks
  • Distribute food individually instead of buffet-style to avoid congregating 
  • Place hand sanitizer on the tables and where food is offered

We sent out the carefully worded invitation. As families signed up, they also voiced their concerns. We canceled the bus and arranged taxis instead for those families that needed rides.  

The night before the event there was a flurry of WhatsApps from the families. Do they need a test? We reinforced that it was a “warm” recommendation, not a requirement, and reminded them of the free testing centers and quick testing kits for sale at most pharmacies. 

I laughed aloud as I drove up the morning of the event. Ironically, a testing station was set up in the parking lot at the venue. Fewer people arrived than expected but that meant that the park was even more spacious for those who did. And we had a blast. The kids and their parents enjoyed laser tag, rope courses, paintball target shooting, water-football (the favorite), bouncy castles, and a yummy pizza lunch. 

At Jeremy’s Circle, we believe that kids deserve to be kids even when there is cancer in the family and a global pandemic. With each new wave, we see that the coronavirus is not going anywhere. We must be creative in finding safe ways to play, socialize, study, work, blow off steam, and grow – particularly if we are high risk. Otherwise, the long-term effects of protecting ourselves may be just as crippling as the virus.

About the Author
Originally from New York, Pamela Becker has enjoyed a long career as a marketing executive for some of Israel's leading technology companies including WhizzCo, ironSource, and SafeCharge (acquired by nuvei). After she was widowed with three small children in 2008, Pamela co-founded and remains the active chairperson of the Israeli charity Jeremy's Circle, which supports children and teens coping with cancer or cancer loss in their young families. She earned a BA in Writing Seminars from The Johns Hopkins University and an MBA from Tel Aviv University. Her debut novel Memoirs of a False Messiah was published in 2019. Pamela lives with her husband and their five children in Tel Aviv.
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