The Playgrounds Are Re-Opening, And My Family Will Be There

by Ashley Gold
Originally Published: 
The Playgrounds Are Re-Opening, And I'm Going To Be There
Scary Mommy and Nitat Termmee/Getty

My kids and I are going on our twelfth (hundredth? thousandth?) week of what was initially ordered to be a two-week quarantine to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. We’ve diligently avoided playgrounds, open spaces with large numbers of people, and done all the things we were asked to do.

We support flattening the curve. We support healthcare workers, and understand the physical, mental, and emotional toll standing on the front lines of this virus has taken on them. We trust science and facts and recognize this virus is terrifying—both its short-term effects and potentially (and as yet unknown) long-term effects. We know people have died—the “in sympathy” emails from my local organizations have slowed, but not stopped.

And also, when the government deems the playground safe to re-open, we’re going to be there. That may seem contradictory, but it’s not.

My choice to take my kids to the playground is not one I make in a vacuum. Every individual choice has a societal repercussions, and the danger that was present in March hasn’t disappeared in May. But I have to weigh the dangers of the virus against the benefits of play combined with the methods we now know to mitigate transmission of the virus, and the fact that this virus may be around for longer than any of us initially imagined.

Kids need to be kids. They need to burn off energy and play. They need to run and climb and swing — and there are many kids who don’t have the luxury of access to a yard, for whom a playground is their only outlet. When my daughter was born with low muscle tone, the physical therapist told me the best thing for her was to go to the playground and move the way kids naturally move. She’s older now, but that movement is as important to her physical health as it is to her mental and emotional health.

Our understanding of COVID-19, and how it spreads, has increased tremendously since March. We now know outdoors is safer than indoors and surface transmission isn’t as big of a risk as we initially thought.

On May 22, the CDC released a press release clarifying information about types of spread. It wrote, “The primary and most important mode of transmission for COVID-19 is through close contact from person-to-person. Based on data from lab studies on COVID-19 and what we know about similar respiratory diseases, it may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this isn’t thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”

The words to note there are: “and then touching” and “isn’t thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”

Simply touching a jungle gym an infected person previously touched will not give you the virus unless you then also touch your face.

I know, kids are face touchers. Adults are face touchers. Since this pandemic, I am acutely aware of how often I touch my face. Unless I’m wearing a mask. Which brings me to the second phrase to note in the CDC’s press release, regarding the main way the virus spreads.

We know, now, this virus spreads largely by person-to-person contact, by talking, singing, coughing, sneezing. We know that wearing a mask protects others from viral shedding by pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic individuals.

Matthew Henry/Burst

Which means, we won’t go to the playground if it’s crowded—we’ll wait for off-hours to ensure we can maintain social distance guidelines. And when we head to the playground, we’ll be wearing masks. My children are old enough to do so. We’ve practiced wearing them. I’ve spoken to them and they understand that, for the time being, if we want to have even a little bit of normal, we have to incorporate masks into our lives.

Yes, not all children are old enough to understand this temporary new normal. Some children have sensory issues that will make mask wearing impossible or impractical. But the truth is that we don’t exactly know children’s role in transmitting the virus. Some studies are hinting toward the fact that children “are less likely to catch the novel coronavirus, and don’t often transmit it to others.” That might change, as we learn more about this virus.

Which to me says, if your child can wear a mask, they should. If circumstances don’t allow for that mask, the risk is likely smaller than it would be if it were adults running around the same playground.

I cannot deny that it would be safer to stay home, the way we have been for going on what feels like eleven thousand days. But, chances are, in the United States, this virus will not be gone until there’s a vaccine. There’s a lot of hopeful news on that front, but even in the best-case scenario we’ve got months and months of vaccine-less living to do. What if it takes years for a vaccine to arrive? Are we avoiding playgrounds for another month? A year? Three years?

Keeping my kids away from playgrounds was challenging, but do-able for three months. But with no end in sight, where is the tipping point at which keeping them home living in fear is worse than taking a calculated risk to give them a chance to just be a kid? The answer will be different for every family.

Going to the playground is not a choice I’m making lightly. I don’t think COVID-19 is gone simply because my kids are stir crazy. I don’t think the fact that my kids are bored is more important than overall public health. But I’m not advocating for large-scale, abandon all measures, cross your fingers and hope for the best mentalities. I wouldn’t allow my kids to stage dive into a crowd of strangers (fingers crossed they never do that, actually, risk of contagious virus aside.) I wouldn’t let them play at the Lego table in Barnes and Noble. But, also I’m not going to the playground simply because they’re bored. They’re struggling, mentally and emotionally, and a little time, climbing, running, swinging might be the cure they need.

Maybe, it’s time to start teaching them how to make safe choices, to live with this new normal. Because I believe we’ve reached that tipping point in our fight against this virus wherein we need to begin weighing severe, individual mitigation efforts with quality of life for our children. And for that reason, when the playgrounds re-open, we’ll be there: during off-hours, whenever possible, with masks, and with a whole lot of hand sanitizer.

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