When is it time to socialize again? Parents balance mental health and physical safety

Gov. Gavin Newson is loosening the restrictions in California. Hospitalizations in the state are down and COVID-19 testing is up. He seems hopeful that Californians are weeks away from being able to shop at their favorite stores and get haircuts. Counties like LA could still impose stricter measures. 

Many people want to expand social circles, but who should be included, and what does it mean for safety? Two moms are trying to figure this out. 

Jill Fink teaches kindergarten and first grade at Woodlake Elementary in Woodland Hills. She says her 13-year-old daughter has had an up-and-down experience with the stay-at-home orders. 

And so, Fink recently hosted a social distancing get-together in front of her garage. That included five chairs positioned six feet apart. There was food, and her daughter’s friends came over to hang out for about an hour and a half. Fink says everyone wore masks the whole time and were respectful. 

“I’ve been really compliant about everything. … But they say health and wellness comes first, and that’s so multifaceted, in terms of your wellbeing. And when you’re a teenager and you’re isolated and not seeing anyone ...  I felt this mini risk that I took was suitable for now,” she says.

J ill Fink with her family. She recently allowed her 13-year-old daughter to get together with friends in person. Photo courtesy of Fink.

Erica Ellis has a 3-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son. She says her kids’ days are up-and-down too. 

From her knowledge as a clinical psychologist, she explains that during the ages of 0-5, a lot of brain development is happening. 

“It is sort of a critical time … in terms of attachment, sort of how we're building relationships. … This age is really useful to be with other adults and to sort of start the process of socialization, of how they are contributing to a shared space, how they're negotiating things like toys and time and attention. And that becomes much more of a sheltered experience, obviously, at home.”

Ellis says she is considering connecting with other preschool families for homeschooling, which means bringing in a teacher. 

LA clinical psychologist Erica Ellis has been thinking about what social isolation means for the brain development of her two kids, ages 3 and 4. Photo courtesy of Erica Ellis.

Jeffrey Klausner, UCLA professor of medicine and public health, says Fink and Ellis are smart and on-target. 

“They seem to understand that the actual risks of acquiring infection among children is very very low. In Los Angeles, fewer than 4% of all cases are under [age] 18. And about 2% of all deaths in Los Angeles are under 18. … They’ve been asked to drastically change their lives to protect others and protect their own children, but they’re seeing the costs of those protections, and they’re worried about them,” he says. 

What about the concern that children could pass COVID-19 to adults who are more vulnerable? 

“That’s a worry, but we haven’t seen that worry been realized in countries that didn’t shelter in place or close down schools. That’s an idea that percolated from [the] 1918 influenza epidemic. And influenza is different. And a lot of scientists are analyzing the data and actually showing that school closures did not impact the spread of infection,” he says. 

Klausner points out that contagion is highest inside residential places, nursing homes, prisons and jails, and work places where there’s a lot of crowding.  

“Having this broad brush approach where everyone shelters at home, everyone wears a mask, everyone lives in fear of coming close to one another in different kinds of social gatherings — to me, based on the epidemiology of where we see cases, where we see outbreaks, where we see the continued spread — does not make a lot of sense,” he says.  

Stats on COVID-19 transmission

Klausner says this epidemic has not spread in a casual, generalized pattern. He continues, “Even in households … the ‘attack rate’ (from the investigations) has been anywhere from 10 to 20%. … If you do come in contact with someone for a prolonged time, there may only be a true 10 to 20% risk of getting infected.” 

He points to antibody studies from LA and Santa Clara: “The positivity is anywhere from 2 … to 10%. Obviously in New York City … about 15 or 20%. But in general, that still means that 80, 90, 95% of people never got infected or are at very low risk for infection.”

Are these rates lower than they could have been because people are sheltering in place, not using mass transit, not going to work places? 

“It’s lower in the people who have self-isolated and changed their behavior. But it's also relatively low. … Positivity in health workers studies is 5 to 10%. So it's not even that dramatically higher than the general population, although it is maybe two or three times higher. So it doesn't attack everyone equally with the same risk,” Klausner says.  

Written by Amy Ta, produced by Angie Perrin and Rosalie Atkinson



  • Jill Fink - first grade teacher at Woodlake Elementary
  • Jeffrey Klausner - professor at UCLA’s School of Public Health, Curative's medical director