Patios are nice and all, but are hardly top of mind for young Canadians. Many kids have been counting down the days until playgrounds reopen, and they can swing from their favourite monkey bars again.
As provinces start unwinding the tape from these much-loved outdoor spaces, family physician and public health expert Dr. Monika Dutt can see why families may have a range of reactions to the news.
On one hand, many parents and caregivers are excited about the opportunity for kids to stretch their limbs and run amok.
“We know that to have a space to take children outside is good for their mental and physical health,” she told HuffPost Canada.
On the other hand, some apprehensive parents may worry about the potential exposure risks from playground time.
HuffPost Canada spoke to Dutt about playground safety tips. She shared what parents ought to keep in mind before having outdoors fun:
Consider your local cases and comfort levels
As Dutt notes, transmission patterns vary all across the country. Nova Scotia, where she resides, is farther along on the reopening timeline than many other parts of Canada: Kids have been going to playgrounds for a month and there have been no new cases of COVID-19 in the province for six days. Meanwhile, provinces like Ontario are just entering Stage 3 and are permitting playground usage in many regions only as of Friday. Be sure to know the local safety guidelines before venturing outside, as well as the sanitation situation in your location of choice — chances are, equipment won’t be disinfected every time a kid touches it.
Toronto playgrounds will be disinfected once a day, according to mayor John Tory.
“You can’t be disinfecting every time somebody uses it,” Tory said in a press conference. “We have to rely on the good sense of the people of Toronto ... where we say, look we are going to disinfect them once a day, but bring along some wipes and help to look after this yourself.”
In the B.C. Centre for Disease Control’s guidelines for park operators, the centre tells B.C. park operators that cleaning outdoors equipment isn’t necessary.
But no, you don’t have to wipe down slides
It may be possible to contract COVID-19 from a surface, but there’s no need to disinfect every slide and swing your kids touch.
Given the World Health Organization’s most up-to-date COVID-19 information, the transmission risk from surfaces is lower than first reported during the pandemic’s early stages.
For the most part, Dutt said, the low risk factor and difficulty in wiping every surface down while kids are clamouring to play makes it unnecessary to do so.
Still feeling uncomfortable? look at the equipment
If your family is trying to alleviate COVID-19 anxiety, it might be helpful to consider that the virus will stay on different surfaces longer than others. Ropes and sand will be tricky, if not impossible to disinfect, Good Housekeeping reports.
Pack hand sanitizer
It sounds obvious, but considering how often kids make hand-to-mouth contact, whether or not you have the product on-hand should be a major factor in whether or not kids get to play outside. Dutt recommends hand-sanitizing every once in a while on a trip, but not constantly.
Failing that or to supplement a low supply, it’s worth scoping out the playgrounds’ facilities for nearby public washrooms for frequent hand-washing.
Stay away from crowds
For Dutt, the biggest COVID-19 risk at playgrounds will be how many kids are crammed in the same area.
If your favourite playground is packed once you get there or starts to feel like social distancing is getting harder to do, consider having an alternate playground in mind as your plan B.
Try not to shame others
It may be tempting to tell off other parents when you start to feel uncomfortable with a playground’s conditions, as some may interpret local safety protocol more loosely than others. Dutt advises parents to be kind and try to put themselves in other parents’ shoes.
“Not everyone has the same access to spaces like playgrounds and may be coming from another neighbourhood,” she pointed out. “As much as we can, everybody is trying to look for ways to stay active and keep their kids occupied.”
Make sure there’s no toy-sharing
“If you’re bringing your own toys to the playground, trying to just have your child play with those toys,” Dutt said, but added that enforcing that among eager kids may be challenging. It might help to emphasize this as a rule before stepping out the door.
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