With lots of kids running around, and parents looking on, how can you ensure your trip to the playground is COVID-safe for you, your children, and others?
A good place to start is to understand how COVID-19 spreads, and what you can do to interrupt it.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the main way SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) spreads is by droplet transmission.
Droplets containing virus particles are released from the mouth or nose when someone who is infectious coughs, sneezes, laughs, talks, or even breathes. The more vigorous the activity, the greater the volume of droplets and spread (so, for example, laughing releases more droplets than breathing).
Larger droplets fall to the ground relatively quickly and within a short distance of where they were released. But you can inhale them if you’re standing close to an infected person.
Smaller droplets, or aerosols, can travel further and hang around for longer in the air. Scientists are still working to understand the importance of this form of transmission — commonly termed airborne transmission — in the spread of COVID-19.
Another possible route of transmission is in contact with contaminated surfaces. This happens when infectious droplets fall onto surfaces, or contaminated hands touch surfaces. If an uninfected person touches the contaminated surface and then touches their face or food, they may ingest virus particles and become infected.
A recent laboratory study found SARS-CoV-2 particles can remain both detectable and viable (able to cause infection) on surfaces for many days, particularly if the surfaces are smooth, such as metal or plastic. As with airborne transmission, scientists are still figuring out how common this mode of transmission is for COVID-19.
The good news about playgrounds is they’re generally outdoors in parks. The risk of inhaling infectious droplets is reduced because the large volume of air has a dilution effect, compared with being in a confined space indoors with other people. Outdoor breezes can also disperse particles.
The temperature also appears to influence the risk. Warmer temperatures have been shown to reduce the viability of SARS-CoV-2 more quickly than cooler temperatures, while sunlight may also help inactivate the virus. In Australia, of course, we’re now heading into the warmer and sunnier summer period.
On the other side of the coin, public playground equipment may not be cleaned regularly. So there could be some risk of transmission via contaminated surfaces.
And while warmer weather and particularly being outdoors may protect us to a degree, as with anything during the pandemic, a small level of risk remains.
While younger children may not understand or follow instructions well about keeping away from other children or touching their face, fortunately, they appear to have a lower risk of being diagnosed with COVID-19, and of developing the severe disease if they are infected.
The focus with young children should be on frequent hand hygiene and preventing physical contact with non-family members as much as possible.
With little COVID-19 transmission in Australia now, and most playgrounds being outdoors, a trip to the playground is fairly low-risk, and we know physical activity carries many benefits for children and adults alike. But we can all do our part to minimize any risk of transmission.
Images used courtesy of Pexels/cottonbro
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