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Stop taking children to playgrounds, playdates during coronavirus outbreak: experts

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With so many children out of school and daycare, it’s no surprise some parents prefer to practise social distancing during the coronavirus outbreak outdoors.

But in the midst of increasing calls for physicals distancing, self-isolation and quarantine, some parents are still taking their children to playgrounds and playdates.

Craig Janes, director of the school of public health at the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ont., tells Global News this is not the time to allow children to go to playgrounds.

READ MORE: Coronavirus can last on surfaces for days — experts say cleaning is key

“[Children] aren’t likely to follow the procedures needed for hygiene (washing hands, not touching face), and they are equally unlikely to adhere to social distancing protocols.”

Janes adds while we don’t yet know how effectively children can transmit the virus, they could bring something home to their family members.

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READ MORE: Mom, sister, two brothers gone: How coronavirus ‘decimated’ a New Jersey family

One recent study found on some surfaces like plastic, the virus can last up to three days. This study was performed in a lab environment.

“The available science suggests that the virus can live for quite a while on surfaces, particularly plastic and stainless steel … which likely characterizes most playground equipment.”

Click to play video 'Challenges of social distancing during coronavirus pandemic' Challenges of social distancing during coronavirus pandemic
Challenges of social distancing during coronavirus pandemic

Janes says if your children want to go outside, take them to the park or even the backyard instead. This way, they can maintain distance from other children.

“I can understand the feeling of being cooped up with the kids going crazy,” he said.  “[This is] going to be tough on parents for a bit as they struggle to find things for kids to do.”
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But if any adult or child in the household has symptoms, Janes says you must stay indoors.

On Friday, Global News found a yellow warning sign at a Toronto park, advising parents, “the novel coronavirus can survive on metal and plastic surfaces, in cold and warm temperatures, for up to three days.”

The sign urged parents to not use the playground.

In a statement to Global News by Toronto Public Health, these signs were not authorized by the city.

“The city is actively developing signage for city parks and playgrounds, advising parents that equipment is not sanitized, and reminding parents and children to practise social distancing on the playground and to wash their hands after play,” the statement said.

Parks and playgrounds continue to remain open in Toronto, but children should avoid close interactions with others, public health said. In other Canadian municipalities, like in British Columbia, playgrounds have already been shut down.

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On March 25, Toronto mayor John Tory announced the shut down of all city-owned playground and other parks amenities.

READ MORE: Live updates: Coronavirus in Canada

Toronto Public Health spokesperson Dr. Vinita Dubey adds families can still enjoy the outdoors and being active, but avoid all playdates with other children.

“After going outside, have them wash their hands with soap and water for at least 15 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available, she said.

“Avoid frequently touched surfaces on playground equipment. Use a hand sanitizer if you do touch objects. Try playing with a soccer ball or going for a walk instead.”

Parents shaming other parents

Julie Romanowski, an early childhood consultant based in Vancouver, also agrees parents should not be taking their children to playgrounds or organizing playdates, adding if anything, children should avoid public spaces.

“Do something else outside like make your own playground, sandbox or obstacle course in your own yard or even indoors.”

But some parents take matters into their own hands, shaming other parents who don’t follow public health recommendations, either online or in person.

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Click to play video 'Ideas to keep kids busy during school and daycare closures' Ideas to keep kids busy during school and daycare closures
Ideas to keep kids busy during school and daycare closures

“I don’t agree with shaming anyone for anything, however, we are in unknown territory here with this virus/pandemic and worries as well as stress and anxiety are at a high,” Romanowski said.

“People are scared and are reacting to that feeling — reacting out of fear.”

Maureen Dennis, a parenting and lifestyle expert based in Toronto adds we should also take some time to explain to our children why we can’t go on playdates or play in the playground.

“My advice is to take this very seriously and explain to your kids why some things we normally do as a family have to change, at least for now.”

What can you do with kids?

Jennifer Kolari, parenting expert and founder of Connected Parenting recently told Global News there are several things you can do with your children indoors.

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The first big step is creating a routine they can get used to, as they do with school.

“If these days at home don’t have structure or texture, your kids are going to get pyjama fever,” she said. “Wake up at the same time every day and go through a similar routine where you’re getting dressed, you’re getting ready, you’re having your breakfast and then you begin the day.”

She recommends age and grade-appropriate workbooks or other school-oriented items that you can print off from the internet or if you are outside, stick to walks. She calls it “adventure storytime.”

READ MORE: Can I go for a walk outside during the coronavirus outbreak?

“Let’s say you’re going for a walk, and the minute you step off the porch, you’re explorers in fairyland,” she said.

Romanowski says kids can still enjoy the outdoors, this includes going on hikes (again, practise proper social distancing), ride bikes, do chalk drawings in front of the house, paint rocks in the backyard or play with bubbles.

Dennis says we should also keep in mind children will miss their friends.

“My kids have been writing letters to their friends and having playdates through FaceTime instead.”

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Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

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For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

–With files from Global News’ Olivia Bowden and Meghan Collie