Some of you have already had your kids home from school for weeks. Others of us are just a few days into our school closures. But we’re all clearly still navigating the rules of how to practice social distancing in order to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, or COVID-19. There’s one question parents have been asking each other for days in my neighborhood: Is it OK to use the playground?
The answer, sadly, is probably not. Especially after a new study came out this week showing how long the virus can live on surfaces like plastic and steel. You know, the very materials they use to make playground equipment. It also might stay in the air longer than previously assumed.
“[Playgrounds] are strongly discouraged, because there is new information that the virus does remain in the air for about two and a half to three hours,” Jessica Madden, MD, a board-certified pediatrician, neonatologist and Aeroflow Breastpumps medical director, told SheKnows.
A letter to the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine this week discussed the results of a study conducted by researchers from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Princeton University, the CDC, and UCLA. It showed that SARs-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, survives on steel and plastic for as long as 72 hours. It could still be detected on cardboard for up to 24 hours (keep that in mind when you pick up those Amazon boxes) and on copper for about four hours. And though scientists had been saying you could only contract the virus from droplets of fluid from an infected person, this study shows that the virus survives in aerosol form for up to three hours.
That’s all led Madden to advise parents to be a little stricter about their outings with children than many have been.
“I say if you’re going to do a playground, I guess the ideal circumstances would be with just your kids there, nobody else,” she said. “And use the absolute best possible hygiene possible.”
I just walked by my neighborhood playground and saw several kids playing like it was any old day off. And I sincerely doubt those children were avoiding touching their faces and putting their hands in their mouth while they were out there. Seems like this is not the way to “flatten the curve.”
Well, if they can’t go to the playground, can we at least ease our kids’ boredom (and our own frazzled nerves) by having a friend over to play?
Madden said that’s also not a great idea right now.
“It’s just not safe, because so many people are asymptomatic carriers of it,” she said, somewhat apologetically.
As the mother of four, Madden knows how hard it is to make nuanced rules about these things. If you let one child’s friend come over and not another, things will not go well.
“It’s easier just to have a hard ‘no’ than this questionable area,” she said. “I think it easily could get out of control.”
With so little we can control right now, I definitely see her point.
At least you can make your days fun indoors with these kids exercise videos and apps.