The moment our children have been waiting for has come at last: The neighborhood playgrounds are open! But wait, if government officials have removed the padlocks and caution tape, does that mean they’re safe? As parents struggle to decide this, we’ve come across a story that’s giving us pause: One Arizona woman believes her daughter contracted a scary case of COVID-19 after visiting her local playground.
As part of a series called “People of the Pandemic,” the Deseret News told the story of Arizona mom Auriel Elmore, whose 7-year-old daughter has been suffering with a 106-degree fever since contracting COVID-19. Here is the most troubling passage: “Auriel Elmore’s kids hardly left the house during the pandemic shutdown — not even to the grocery store. ‘They were miserable,’ she says. But after Arizona lifted its stay-at-home order in mid-May, she took them to Mansel Carter Oasis Park, home to this epic playground, where ‘social distancing is inevitable because it’s just so gigantic.’ They wore masks. Now she wonders whether it was a mistake.”
Shortly after that visit, daughter Dillon developed a fever and a rash all over her body, and a few days later she tested positive for the virus. We have no way of confirming whether the playground is where the girl was exposed to COVID. It could have been passed to her by her parents or another adult she’s been in contact with. The article doesn’t try to do any contact tracing because the focus is on their experience with the virus.
— Kevin Beaty (@KevinJBeaty) June 24, 2020
But the story is going to stick in our minds for a while. Experts have said that touching surfaces isn’t the main way people become infected, and studies have shown that it’s harder to catch it outside. There’s also evidence that sunlight kills the virus. All of these factors were taken into account when New York City’s playgrounds finally opened this week, following others across the country (though Chicago and Los Angeles have kept their playgrounds closed).
That’s not necessarily meant to be a green light for children and caregivers to go wild. A lower chance of contracting the virus outside or from a surface is not a zero chance.
“In communities where there is ongoing spread of COVID-19, playgrounds can be hard to keep safe because: They are often crowded and could make social distancing difficult; it can be difficult to keep surfaces clean and disinfected; SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can spread when young children touch contaminated objects, and then touch their eyes, nose, or mouth,” reads the CDC’s website.
Because of this, the CDC still advises people to maintain 6 feet of distance from those not in their household, and for all people over age 2 to wear a mask. Frequent hand-washing and/or hand sanitizer use is also a must. For the sake of social distancing, it also advises avoiding crowded playgrounds.
As anyone who has ever, well, seen a child knows, they are not good at any of these things — staying apart from each other, keeping their hands from their faces, washing their hands, and wearing their masks consistently over their faces and mouths. What’s more, cities don’t have the budgets to sanitize those playground structures.
Our best hope, if we’re going to take our children to the playground, is to watch them like hawks. We’ll have to tell them to keep their masks on, follow them around with squirts of sanitizer, remind them to stand farther away from their friends. And stop. Touching. Their. Face.
Oh, and we’ll have to to stay even farther away from the kids and adults who have selfishly decided not to wear masks or maintain social distancing.
Even then, will they wind up like little Dillon Elmore? Will they not, but pass the disease on to us? Being a parent in 2020 feels like having to do higher math and conduct medical-philosophical explorations every second of the day.
Shop these kids face masks from Amazon to keep your children safe this summer.