Playground safety during the pandemic

Omar Kinnear, founder of ResidentPortal

Children everywhere have reacted with jubilation to the news that they could once again play on the playgrounds in their community scheme following the relaxation of lockdown levels – but just how safe are they during the pandemic?

“This is a question that many parents are asking – and understandably so, given the risks of infection from close contact with a potentially infected child or playground equipment being contaminated with the virus,” says Omar Kinnear, developer of ResidentPortal, a web-based communication portal for sectional title developments and homeowners associations.

While the risks to children of serious illness due to Covid-19 are generally considered to be low, the World Health Care Organization (WHO) says that limited data shows that a small percentage of children will require hospitalization and intensive care if infected by the virus.

“South Africa has not published safety protocols for children during the pandemic,” notes Kinnear, “however, there are some basic precautions parents can take, according to experts.”

Sanitising equipment not always possible

US Paediatrician, Dr Diane Arnaout, admits that although sanitising park equipment sounds like a good idea, practically, this is extremely difficult to implement in a playground situation, where there is constant movement and large playground pieces. “I feel like park time is so chaotic, this would be really difficult for me to do,” she says.

“I think if you have wipes and your child is super focused on a favourite piece of playground equipment, absolutely, wipe away. But I think handwashing at the end of your trip is more important.  I keep hand sanitiser in my car and we use it the moment we get in. We also wash our hands thoroughly once we get home for at least 20 seconds.”

Should children wear masks on the playground?

This is a controversial question, with different countries making a variety of recommendations.  However, an international and multidisciplinary expert group brought together by WHO reviewed evidence on COVID-19 disease and transmission in children and the limited available evidence on the use of masks by children.  They conclude that children should not wear a mask when playing sports or doing physical activities, such as running, jumping or playing on the playground, so that it doesn’t compromise their breathing.

However, they note that when organising these activities for children, it is important to encourage all other critical public health measures: maintaining at least a 1-metre distance from others, limiting the number of children playing together, providing access to hand hygiene facilities and encouraging their use.

General advice on the use of children using masks

Based on the relatively low risk of infection among children as well as children’s psychosocial needs and developmental milestones, WHO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) advise the following:

Age 5 and under

Children aged 5 years and under should not be required to wear masks. This is based on the safety and overall interest of the child and the capacity to appropriately use a mask with minimal assistance.

Age 6-11

The decision to use masks for children aged 6-11 should be based on the following factors:

  • Whether there is widespread transmission in the area where the child resides
  • The ability of the child to use a mask safely and appropriately
  • Access to masks, as well as laundering and replacement of masks in certain settings (such as schools and childcare services)
  • Adequate adult supervision and instructions to the child on how to put on, take off and safely wear masks
  • Potential impact of wearing a mask on learning and psychosocial development, in consultation with teachers, parents/caregivers and/or medical providers
  • Specific settings and interactions the child has with other people who are at high risk of developing serious illness, such as the elderly and those with other underlying health conditions.

Age 12 and over

WHO and UNICEF advise that children aged 12 and over should wear a mask under the same conditions as adults, in particular when they cannot guarantee at least a 1-metre distance from others and there is widespread transmission in the area.

Parents should keep abreast of Covid-19 research

“It is important for parents to note that the advice contained in this article is merely a sample of the available recommendations,” says Kinnear.

“Given the uncertainty around the virus and the increasing body of research findings, I believe parents should ideally try to remain abreast of latest research and decide for themselves what the best approach is for their children,” he concludes.

Next month, we will discuss the SABS standards for safe playgrounds

ABOUT ResidentPortal

ResidentPortal is developed and managed by Sandton-based software consulting and development company, Business Xponent Solutions (BXS).  The estate communication platform is one of the products emerging from 20 years of experience in the software industry of its founder, Omar Kinnear.  One of the original developers of the SARS eFiling platform, Kinnear brings to ResidentPortal a wealth of knowledge of system performance and security.

Since 2016, around 100 complexes are using the Free Plan of ResidentPortal, and over 1000 residents, mostly in and around Gauteng, are benefiting from the way the full-featured Standard and Pro packages are simplifying their lives in their estates and complexes.

For more information, contact:  Omar Kinnear, 078 798 3378

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