How to keep kids safe as playgrounds open to larger crowds

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 8, 2020

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COVID-19 precautions should remain a priority

By Cliff Mehrtens
Novant Health

With the summer heat waning, it is more inviting to take your children to a playground. But the threat of COVID-19 remains and participants should continue taking precautions.

North Carolina recently moved into Gov. Roy Cooper’s Phase 3 of COVID-19 limitation, which allows outdoor playgrounds to have a capacity of 50 people.

Novant Health’s Dr. Kelli Wheeler answers common questions about what is OK for kids, and what’s risky when it comes to visiting parks and playgrounds under the revised guidelines.

Should my child wear a mask at the playground?

If you’re within 6 feet of another person, you should always have a mask on. COVID-19 is spread most easily by respiratory droplets, so everyone older than 2 should wear a mask. If you’re lucky enough to be at the park when there are no other children around, and it’s just your family unit involved, you can have your mask off.

Is social distancing still important?

Yes, that’s one of the most important things. It’s important for children to be able to play, but staying within the family unit is key, too. You don’t know where other people have been, or who they’ve been exposed to.

Should parents be concerned, now that capacity allowed at playgrounds has grown to 50 people?

When you arrive, you should be able to look around and make a decision based on how many people are there. Sometimes, it could be better to go at times of the day when a playground is less busy, which would mean less potential exposure based on the number of people at the playground. Be willing to cut the trip short if it’s too crowded and you don’t feel comfortable.

What about a playground swing, slide or other equipment? Should I wipe those down with a cleanser?

We’re still learning and figuring out about COVID-19 on surfaces. It’s safe to clean them, but always make sure to also have children wash their hands before and after using playground equipment, keep children from putting their hands in their mouth, wear a mask and practice social distancing.

Is it safe to have an outside play date with a smaller group of children?

That is a family-unit decision you’ll have to make. Schools are opening up in some places, so children are coming in contact with other children. If you feel comfortable with the other family unit in the play date, and everyone practices COVID-19 safety precautions, that will lower the risk of someone becoming sick.

What if my child wants to play in a gymnasium, which sometimes is located on or near an outdoor playground?

I think a lot of the similar principles would hold true, and you’d take the same precautions at a gym that you would if were at a playground. Wear your mask. Wash your hands thoroughly and maintain social distance. But you don’t want to put yourself in dangerous situations. If you don’t feel safe or you’re not comfortable in a gym, don’t go.

What about older children who can go to a playground by themselves, or may find themselves on a playground during a school P.E. class or recess?

We’d hope that they would abide by the same guidelines that are in effect for everyone. Yes, they’re more independent than younger children, and they’re making decisions for themselves. It’s important that the family also keeps a tight circle and everyone takes safety precautions regardless of their age.

Should I just never allow my children onto a playground?

It is a tough balance for parents and guardians. A lot of children are emotionally affected by isolation, and they’re not seeing friends, classmates and teammates because of the COVID-19 pandemic. They can benefit from some sort of play time, but at the same time you want to always keep safety in mind.