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COVID-19 Safety Protocol Options During Parenting Time

There is little doubt that the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed our daily lives. It has changed how we work, play, and interact with each other. The extent and manner of personal interactions have been directly affected by the need to be hypervigilant, maintain social distance, wear face masks in public and potentially quarantine ourselves in the event of actual or perceived exposure to the virus. The impact of COVID-19 has been no less severe regarding custody and parenting time issues. When the pandemic began, many questions arose. Custodial parents wondered whether they should release the children to the other parent. Parents and attorneys were unsure as to what circumstances called for a modification to the parenting schedule. Parents wondered whether certain protective protocols should be put in place. As the pandemic progressed, and the negative impact on the court system was felt, it was clear that the general rule adopted by almost every court that has addressed this issue is that the status quo should be maintained. Parents should continue to follow the agreed-upon or ordered parenting schedule unless there was a significant reason to alter their continued enforceability. This article will not address whether that viewpoint is correct or not. Rather, the intent of this article is to provide suggested safety protocols that parents may choose to implement (or request that a court order) to safeguard themselves and the children in light of the current pandemic. Any one or more of these protocols can be adopted based upon the appropriate facts of the case.

The specific protocols suggested herein are in addition to various general safety protocols that have been recommended by the Center for Disease Control (“CDC”) and/or the World Health Organization (‘WHO”). There is no question that parents should be required to comply with CDC/WHO, local, state, federal guidelines, and regulations. Without question, parents should agree to be vigilant, maintain good hygiene, practice social distancing, wear masks, refrain from exposure to large groups, limit children’s exposure to public places (such as restaurants, stores, amusement parks, water parks, beaches, etc.), clean/disinfect frequently touched surfaces and take other appropriate precautions. Parties can also agree to specify that they shall insure that other household members and visitors abide by these guidelines as well. It should be noted that the CDC currently recommends that an individual stay home for 14 days after their last contact with a person who has COVID-19. That person should watch for fever (100.4 ͦ F or higher), cough, shortness of breath or other systems of COVID-19. If possible, the quarantined person should stay away from others, especially people who are at high risk for getting very sick from COVID-19.[i]

General Safety Protocols

The following are general safety protocols that could be adopted in your standard separated or divorced family with minor children. It should be noted that some suggested protocols are more severe then others. Whether more, versus less severe protocols are employed is solely dependent on the level of the pandemic, ever-changing recommendations from scientists and healthcare providers and the circumstances of the particular family.

  1. Any boxes delivered to the home are left in the garage for 5 days.
  2. All mail is placed in a non-living space for 2 days before being touched.
  3. All plastic is quarantined for 5 days.
  4. At no time does a parent or significant other touch boxes without gloves, and the boxes are immediately placed in the garage for disposal.
  5. Any food that is delivered to the home is individually sanitized item by item and done so on a portion of the counter with plastic.
  6. Before the children travel in the car it is sanitized with disinfectant. There is also ongoing disinfecting of flat surfaces in the home.
  7. If meals are delivered, any bags are left outside and then opened wearing gloves, with the container the food came in placed on the section of the counter covered with plastic. The containers are never touched by anyone without gloves and are immediately disposed of outside the home.
  8. All household members engage in social distancing and stay home whenever possible.
  9. The parent and children refrain from going out and stay home unless a trip is needed for food, healthcare, work or other necessary purpose. Children should be encouraged to play outside or go on walks.
  10. The children do not socialize with friends or neighbors, nor does the parent. Children should be encouraged to communicate electronically with their friends.
  11. Parent should wear gloves when opening packages or mail, and they are left in a separate room.
  12. The parent should change his or her clothes after work.
  13. Parent and children should all wash their hands frequently.
  14. Parent’s car is sanitized, and the house disinfected daily (i.e. cleaning all common surfaces, faucets, handles, knobs counters, etc.)
  15. Food purchased at a store or supermarket is cleaned and then cooked thoroughly.

Safety Protocols for Health Care Providers

It is reasonable to assume that parents who are involved in high risks occupations, such as health care providers, police, firefighters, and other first responders may be required to adhere to more stringent safety protocols. The following are safety protocols that may apply to those parents who are more at risk. (Note: the reference to “hospital” below can be replaced with any healthcare facility. Further, the gender references below are obviously interchangeable.)

  1. The health-worker/parent does not wear any personal clothing to the hospital. Rather, he wears a pair of scrubs to the hospital, then trades them in at the end of the day for a new clean set. He also brings an extra pair of scrubs home with him. When he returns home, he changes out of the scrubs he is wearing in the garage and returns to work the next day wearing the clean pair of scrubs he brought home with him.
  2. Each day, independent of her obligation at the hospital, the health-worker/parent takes her temperature when she wakes up.
  3. The health-worker/parent removes her shoes that she wears to work in the basement and keeps them out of the living space.
  1. Each day when the health-worker/parent arrives at the hospital he has his temperature taken.
  2. The health-worker/parent is questioned daily about her health and whether she has any COVID-19 symptoms before being allowed to enter the facility.
  1. Throughout the day, the health-worker/parent wears a N-95 mask as well as a regular mask (dual protection), as well as other protective equipment, as their particular job duties dictate.
  2. The health-worker/parent temperature is taken before he leaves his building, meaning his temperature is taken both before entering and leaving the building.
  3. The health-worker/parent is required to self-monitor for a fever. If he develops a fever or any other symptoms, he must advise his supervisor, in which case he would be sent home immediately.a. If sent home, the health-worker/parent is required to contact Occupational Health (a separate operation required to exist in every hospital) for the region for further examination. That entity would decide if he needs a COVID-19 test, and, if it is suspected to be a work-related exposure, they would arrange for the test.
  4. If Occupational Health determines it was a non-work-related exposure, the health-worker/parent would be required to contact his primary care physician.
  5. After a referral, Occupational Health maintains contact at least every 24 hours. Only after Occupational health clears the employee are they able to return to work.
  6. If you test positive, you must remain out of work for 10 days after the initial onset of symptoms. In addition, you must be fever free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications and have an improvement in symptoms, before you can return to the workplace.
  7. When a patient calls for an appointment, they are first contacted by a nurse for screening.
  8. When a patient arrives at the office, they are tested for fever and placed in a special waiting area. The patient and all staff in that separate and secure waiting area must wear masks.
  9. No employee is allowed into the hospital from the garage without first receiving a mask.
  10. Everyone entering the hospital has their temperature taken before being permitted to enter the building.
  11. They are required to monitor their temperature at home.
  12. Before any patient can be seen, the front desk screens the patient over the phone and at the clinic’s entrance, thereby precluding anybody from entering the building without being screened. In addition, each patient receives a mask and has their temperature taken.
  13. To minimize contact, they speak with patients through Telehealth or some similar form of electronic communication.
  14. All staff members are screened with temperature check prior to working.
  15. All in person patients are screened before they can travel to the office.
  16. The office is disinfected every hour.
  17. The rooms are wiped down after every patient examination.
  18. There is strict social distancing.

 

CONCLUSION

According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center as of July 28, 2020, there have been over 16.5 million confirmed coronavirus cases in the world. Of the total worldwide cases, there are over 4.3 million in the US. Of the 655,300 global deaths, 148,298 were in the US. [ii] Unfortunately, it appears that the confirmed cases are on the rise. This is not a problem that is going to go away soon. We certainly cannot propose that parents be restricted from having in-person contact with their children due to the Coronavirus.[iii] This is not tenable when you are dealing with a problem that has no foreseeable end. However, that does not mean that reasonable safety precautions cannot be put in place that are tailored to the facts of the case. Hopefully, this article will provide attorneys and parties with suggestions that may help them craft appropriate agreements that can protect themselves and, most importantly, their minor children.

 

[i] CDC.gov/coronavirus/2019-nco5/if-you-are-sick/quarantine.html

[ii] Coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html

[iii] See Wilke v. Culp, 196 N.J. Super. 487 (App. Div. 1984) (In order to validly restrict, suspend or terminate the parent’s rights, there must be clear and convincing evidence that the exercising of those rights will cause the child physical or emotional harm).

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