A Pediatrician’s Take on Playgrounds in the Age of COVID-19: 7 Tips to Keep Your Kids Safe
At my house, the 4- and 6-year-old natives are growing restless. The backyard isn’t cutting it anymore, biking up and down the street is growing old, and running around in the sprinkler now holds as much joy as a root canal. The parks are calling our name.
But is it safe?
Let me let you in on a little secret – there’s so much we still don’t know about this virus.
And by “don’t know” I mean, there are no great, large, long-term studies about the virus out there. My guidance for you is, at best….educated guessing. So bear with me.
In my office, I’m constantly asked “well….what are YOU doing with YOUR family, Dr. Diane?”
Well, I’ve read a lot. And it seems like the conditions ripest for catching the virus are in enclosed spaces with a large number of unmasked people, within areas of poor ventilation.
So…playgrounds and parks seem low risk. With some planning.
What is my family doing?
- We have a heart-to-heart each and every time we go. If a playground has more than 1-2 families presently playing, we will try again later, or try a different park. My kids no longer melt down if a park is too full; it’s part of the game plan to be as safe as possible. They know this is part of the deal.
- Also – we talk about keeping distance from other families. The CDC recommends keeping 6 feet between households if possible. In most playgrounds this is feasible, if not too many folks are there. My kids have adapted to the idea of “well, the swings are full, so it’s see-saw time until that family is done using the swings!”
- This may not be easy for little ones, like those under age 3, so it’s important to watch over your kids and gently guide their curiosity to other parts of the park if they seem to drift towards new friends.
- The CDC says if you can’t keep 6 feet of distance between your family and another, to wear masks if over age 2. In the Texas heat, my kids just wouldn’t be able to deal with this. Also, I’m just not comfortable with crowded parks yet. So we leave the playground if lots of people arrive – and again, that’s part of the heart-to-heart talk we have before we go.
- We pee before we go. Using public restrooms ups your risk. If you have to use them, wash hands thoroughly afterwards.
- Some news sources are telling you to “wipe down surfaces before your kid plays on it." I feel like park time is so chaotic, this would be really difficult for me to do. Constant movement and large playground pieces make me feel like this is near impossible. Studies show that the virus can live anywhere from 5 hours to 3 days on metals, which is worrisome, but the virus degrades pretty quickly on hot surfaces (thank you Texas sun). I think if you have wipes and your child is super focused on a favorite piece of playground equipment, absolutely, wipe away. But I think handwashing at the end of your trip is more important.
- I keep hand sanitizer in my car and we use it the moment we get in. We also wash our hands thoroughly once we get home for at least 20 seconds.
I know it’s sad to think of all this THINKING for something as simple as a trip to the playground. But it won’t be this way forever, you guys. Being careful like this buys us time, resources, education, medications, and possibly a vaccine soon. It’s not forever – but why not keep things as safe as possible in these uncertain times?
Get outside and enjoy this summer safely.
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Get to know Diane Arnaout, M.D., a Cook Children's pediatrician at Forest Park
"I didn’t realize how important the job of the pediatrician was until I had kids of my own. My education, experience in medicine, and cocky attitude made me feel like I knew it all before my first one came around. He proceeded to make me very aware of how little I actually knew.
Thankfully he survived, as did the next one, and they’ve helped me to grow and to help YOU, the parent, in so many ways. Sure I’m here to make sure your kids are healthy and happy at all ages. But I’m also here to make sure you’re educated, to make sure your family is thriving, and to make you feel confident in caring for your kids. From diaper rashes to sleep problems to school difficulties - I’m here to help.
I write a lot about common problems and ailments online – you can find me busy on Facebook and Instagram, and I write articles for the Cook Children’s Checkup Newsroom blog. A lot of stuff you’ll hear me say in the office will be typed out on there, too. And we’re in a day and age where the internet helps make connections – you can connect with me on there, or e-mail me anytime.
It takes a village to raise a child – and I’m so grateful to be a part of yours. And as Master Yoda teaches us – “Always pass on what you have learned.” I fully plan to!"