Whether they knew it or not, even kids have been doing their part to keep themselves and others safe from COVID-19 by staying home from their city's playgrounds for the past few months. As the US begins to open back up, however, you might be wondering if it's safe to take your kids to the playground right now.
Luckily, the experts we spoke with fully understand and support that kids need an outlet for all that pent-up energy (not to mention the fact that physical activity is fundamental for a child's growth and development), but they also acknowledged that a trip to the playground won't be quite as carefree as it was before COVID-19. Here's what you need to know before your next day at the park.
Is It Safe to Visit a Playground Right Now?
Kelly Fradin, MD, a mom and pediatrician in New York City, told POPSUGAR via email that while she does plan to take her kids once playgrounds open in her area, they do pose unique risks that parents need to be aware of before they visit. "At a playground, you can expect that children will be running around playing! This means the behavior will be less predictable and violations of social distancing will be more likely than at the grocery store," she said. Unlike at the grocery store, where frequent cleaning is the new norm and you are only touching a few things, playgrounds have a lot of high-touch surfaces that aren't being cleaned as often. "While surface transmission is less of a risk than close contact with other people, it still represents a risk," Dr. Fradin said.
Like any other decision you make right now, Dr. Fradin also stressed the importance of weighing the risks and benefits before visiting a playground. "If you have someone high risk in your home, such as a grandparent over 65 or an adult with high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease, you should consider not going to playgrounds," she said. If you are looking at the risks and rewards, there are things you can do before, during, and after your visit to minimize those risks. The Centers For Disease Control has a handy list of recommendations that you may want to look over before you visit.
What Should You Do to Prepare Before Visiting a Playground?
"If you're going to be at the playground and you know it's going to be a different experience than it was before COVID-19, then there is nothing more important than mentally preparing your child for that," Amina Ahmed, MD, an infectious disease expert with Atrium Health, told POPSUGAR. She recommended discussing good hand hygiene, why you might stay a little closer to them than you normally would, and the importance of wearing a mask if there are other kids around. "Having that discussion with your child ahead of time is critically important because it's going to be a different experience than it was before COVID."
When you're packing your bag for the playground, both doctors agree you should bring, at the minimum, something for hand hygiene (like hand sanitizer) and a mask. "If you are going to a place where you anticipate difficulty maintaining a physical distance of over six feet, or you expect your child will be unreliable, you should wear a mask," Dr. Fradin said. Dr. Ahmed doesn't think a change of clothes is absolutely necessary, but said, "If you wanted to bring a change of clothes because you're worried about a particular interaction they had you could maybe do that."
What Should You Do While You Are at the Playground?
The most important thing to keep in mind during your visit is that you'll need to be a little more present than before so you can intervene and minimize any risky behaviors. "You can have your child go down the slide but you're going to have to be right there to make sure they're not touching the slide after another child and then touching their nose and their eyes," Dr. Ahmed told us. "And if you decide that you're going to wear the mask, which I would encourage, then try to make sure they keep that mask on and that they're not running toward another child to hug them." You should also consider wearing a mask yourself during the duration of the trip, especially if you can't social distance from others at the playground.
Dr. Fradin also mentioned something you may not want to do at the playground right now: "It's probably best to avoid eating at the playground as it increases the risk of dirty hands bringing the virus to the face, but if you decide to eat, sanitize before you eat [in addition to sanitizing before and after you visit the park]." She also noted that you may want to leave if the playground is too crowded or to stick to park visits during less popular times of day.
What Should You Do After You Visit the Playground?
Both experts agreed that good hand hygiene is the number one safety measure you can take before leaving the playground. "If there is a bathroom or water available, all the better to wash your hands then to just use the alcohol [sanitizer]. Alcohol should work, but I think washing your hands gets rid of everything," Dr. Ahmed said. In addition to handwashing, she mentioned the option of wiping your car down with sanitizing wipes, but "the most important thing in the end is going to be the hand hygiene, so that whatever gets onto the hands doesn't get into the mouth or the nose."
Dr. Fradin said that you could consider having your kids shower or change clothes when you get home as an additional precaution.
Most importantly, know that even if your kids can't stick perfectly to these guidelines, anything that they do is going to help minimize the risk of infection. Dr. Ahmed reassured us, "You're not going to succeed 100 percent of the time. Your kid's not going to keep [their] mask on the whole time and you're not going to be able to keep [them] from hugging every child, but we just do the best that we can."