On March 25, the City of Toronto announced it will begin closing and taping off all public parks and playgrounds in an effort to help stop the spread of COVID-19, a decision many cities around the world have taken.
In an interview with Global News, Nancy Walton, a registered nurse and the director of the Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing at Ryerson University, said public parks are a natural social gathering place for both kids and adults alike.
“Parks are inherently social spaces for us, places where we like to gather, places where we relax and seek solace… and that feeling of cabin fever that you get after the winter is even more exacerbated by having to stay home,” said Walton.
The reason why public parks are closed is because they’re seen as high-touch surfaces, and therefore an easy way for people to possibly transmit COVID-19.
“If you think about the equipment on a playground, kids are touching it all the time and very frequently and one after the other. So, you know, swinging from the monkey bars, holding onto the chains of a swing as they swing or, you know, pulling themselves up the ladder of a slide. Those are really high-touch areas,” said Walton.
As well, the National Institutes of Health wrote that the novel coronavirus has the ability to stay on inanimate surfaces for up to three days, something Dionne Aleman, who is a part of the Institute of Health Policy Management and Evaluation at the University of Toronto, says people may forget.
“It’s not just you go to the park and you get there at 6 o’clock in the morning and no one’s been there all day so it’s fine. It’s not fine because somebody who’s infected might have been there yesterday, the day before, the day before that. And their virus, germs could still be on that equipment,” said Aleman.
Some of the public park amenities and areas that have been closed include picnic sites, playgrounds and dog parks.
And even though public parks include playgrounds where kids tend to frequent to play on the swing or monkey bars, experts say children are likely to show little to no symptoms of the novel coronavirus.
“Generally, small children don’t react very strongly to COVID-19. They may have no reaction or they might just have what seems like a standard variety cold, “said Aleman.
“But that cold might not be just a cold. It might be COVID-19… and while it might not be a big deal for your kid, well, they’re almost certainly going to transmit it to you.”
Aleman also adds that if your child were to go see their grandparents, it could lead to the grandparents getting sick, or worse.
“We’re seeing that elderly people are much more susceptible to having severe reactions and even death with COVID-19,” said Aleman.
Some of the other park amenities that have been closed off to the public include soccer fields, baseball diamonds and basketball courts, despite the players wearing gloves and masks during the game.
Walton said people have to realize a glove is an extension of their hand, meaning if they are wearing gloves and touch a surface, then they may accidentally touch their face without realizing it.
As well, people are constantly adjusting their mask, causing for cross-contamination.
Aleman adds that certain sports, like basketball, are hard to play without being in close contact.
All in all, both experts say that in order to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, people need to stay away from public parks, wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds and practice social distancing.
“A virus, any virus, needs people to keep close to each other and transmitting it in order to stay active and alive. And so everything you can do to avoid that is key,” said Walton.
On March 30, Toronto Mayor John Tory said the city will begin issuing fines of up to $5,000 if people are caught using park amenities.
— With files from Jessica Patton and Nick Westoll