Pools… beaches… summer camps… restaurants… movie theaters… and now playgrounds.
Towns and cities across the country are in various phases of “re-opening.” Some are only nearing phase 1 and haven’t yet unlocked the gates to their public beaches and parks, whereas others are in full-on phase 3 and already have packed restaurants and filled summer camp rosters.
This is the point where families have to make their own choices. Two months ago, most of those choices were made for us. Everything was closed. The local ice cream shop, the city museum, even the library had closed their doors under stay-at-home orders from our mayors and governors.
But now that those doors are re-opening, it’s up to us to decide. It’s up to us, as parents, to navigate these new waters — waters we’re allowed to wade into, but we’re not sure if they are safe. We can’t even call this a “post-COVID-19” period because COVID-19 is still very much here. I guess we can call it “post-curve-flattening but still living in a pandemic and waiting to see if there’s a new spike now that people apparently forgot that a virus killed hundreds of thousands of people and are nonchalantly gathering in large crowds without masks”…?
That’s what I’m calling this weird, uncertain time anyway.
Only my family isn’t wading through any waters. We’re still at home, in our pajamas, dry. And safe.
I’m well aware that some may enjoy the freedom of packing up the kids and heading out for the day and are comfortable with their city’s re-opening measures. Personally, I’m not one of those people. Not yet. Not even for a trip to the park.
And honestly, the reason really comes down to one basic thing we know to be true—there’s still so much we don’t know.
Since the beginning of this pandemic nightmare that has seemed to last 10 years but has really only been ravaging the world for a few short months, experts are continuously learning new information with each passing day and week.
For example, more and more cases of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in children who test positive for COVID-19 continue to pop up around the world, and no one seems to know why. The CDC even admits that they are “still learning about MIS-C and how it affects children, so we don’t know why some children have gotten sick with MIS-C and others have not. We also do not know if children with certain health conditions are more likely to get MIS-C. These are among the many questions CDC is working to try to understand.”
The truth is, new facts emerge as research is done, and research can only be done with time. I, for one, am not willing to have my kids be the guinea pigs who go out into the freshly “re-opened” world before we know more. Before we assess the effect these re-opening phases have had, especially as we see images and videos of restaurants and beaches and space launches and pools packed like sardines with mask-less people, my family won’t be going anywhere.
Not even to climb the jungle gym or swing on the swings at our local park.
We learned at the beginning of the shutdown that playgrounds weren’t safe. The equipment, touched by hundreds of tiny sticky hands, can’t be properly sanitized. Little kids don’t physically distance well. It’s hard for them to keep their masks on, if they will even wear them, especially when they are running around and playing. And I guarantee if we’re anywhere for more than five minutes, at least one of my kids will have to use the bathroom.
As reported on Fatherly, a team of researchers from the National Institutes of Health, Princeton University, and the University of California Los Angeles dropped small amounts of COVID-19 on various surfaces to see how long it would survive. And the results weren’t good. “The virus lasted longer on plastic than on any other material they tested — it took 16 hours for half of the COVID-19 to die, and the sample didn’t completely disappear from the surface for 2-3 days,” the article states.
Guess what’s plastic? Pretty much everything at the park these days—from tunnels to slides to monkey bars to jungle gyms. And if your town has a vintage playground like the ones we grew up with that burned our tiny bottoms after baking in the hot sun, well, those are a no-go as well, as that same study found that the virus lasted pretty much just as long on metal.
In comparison to play dates, for example, experts are still saying playgrounds are far more dangerous. “At a playground, you’re dealing with a larger, open space. But it’s also a more chaotic environment — you may not know the other kids at the playground, what their exposure to the virus is and you can’t control their behavior or their numbers,” The New York Times says.
And Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, M.D., professor of medicine and infectious disease specialist at University of California, San Francisco, says that “the playground is like the Wild West compared to the controlled play date.”
So I guess if you can hit an empty park or playground and completely wipe down and sanitize every surface and abruptly rip your kids out of there if anyone else shows up… then, a park visit might be safe? But that sounds worse than just staying home, tbh.
After all, “the intention of a playground is for interaction, and we’re trying to avoid that,” said Dr. George Morris, medical incident commander for CentraCare’s COVID-19 response team in Minnesota.
As a far safer alternative, we’re opting for getting our kids exercise and fresh air in other ways, like riding bikes, creating obstacle courses and forts, and family walks and hikes that involve the touching of zero surfaces and let us easily maintain distance from others.
I wonder, too, if my tune about the park and other public places would be different had my community (and the country) opened via a slow, safe, “phased-in” process. But instead, the very second stay-at-home orders have been lifted and public venues have unlocked their gates, the crowds came flooding in.
Now, parents like me who’ve been 100% quarantined and have followed every safety guideline medical and disease experts have provided, are staying inside even longer, fearing another huge spike in numbers.
Parents like me are watching supposedly “responsible” adults who aren’t wearing masks (despite the overwhelming evidence that we’re not going to beat this thing unless we do), who aren’t physically distancing, and are choosing to congregate in large groups, potentially picking up COVID-19 and carrying it around for days without knowing it.
And any of these adults and/or kids who live with them can be carriers because, again, the coronavirus is not gone — and subsequently spread their contagious germs all over the park.
Again, we don’t know. We don’t know the long term effects of this virus as it’s still so new. We don’t know if there will be another spike. We don’t know who is carrying it and who is not. And we don’t know what could happen to each member of our family if any of us were exposed.
And when there’s so much you don’t know, all you can do is make the safest choice based on what you do know. As a mom, I know this—the best option to protect my family right now is skipping the playground.