Experts say kids can visit parks but social distancing, good hygiene must still be practiced

Updated: Mar. 17, 2020 at 8:10 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - It is known parents are looking for ways to keep their kids busy but with Governor John Bel Edwards announcing mass closures to movie theatres and in-house dining at restaurants, the options are getting slim.

Parks are a go-to for fun but many are asking if they’re safe with the coronavirus going around.

There are roughly 180 parks in East Baton Rouge Parish and BREC officials say every park has been full of kids for the past few days.

Do you think just a few days into the extended spring break that kids are ready to head back to school?

“No, I was like, ‘I get a full weekend,’" said first-grader Patricia Mason. "Yay!”

That’s what you would expect from a kid who gets to spend a Tuesday afternoon in the park. But are parks a safe place to visit with COVID-19 making the rounds?

Health experts say, “Yes.” Parents can appreciate that.

“I’m not ready to go back to the cave," said Nicole LeBlanc-Smith. "It feels a little bit like were cooped up. I lasted a few hours and then here we are.”

She is a parent who said going from having a normal routine to no activity at all can be jolting, so she had to bring her kids to the park.

ONE-STOP-SHOP: Everything you need to know related to Baton Rouge area impact of COVID-19

According to Rebecca Christofferson, assistant professor of emerging viruses and transmission biology at LSU, people should be in an open area. Small spaces create a place for people to unknowingly pass on a virus. She added it’s the densely-packed areas that can pose an issue.

If play dates take place in a park, it allows kids to practice social distancing. Christofferson wants to caution parents to be a little more aware and remind kids of the good hygiene rules. She also said contact with at-risk groups and the elderly should be limited.

Right now, it’s all hands on deck if for those who work for BREC parks. Gallons of sanitizer is being used on every surface kids touch. Cheryl Michelet, communications director with BREC, said they are sanitizing frequently-touched areas once an hour.

“Just to make sure that when people are out getting healthy activity in limited numbers that they’re still safe,” Michelet explained.

Officials in Zachary say playing at their parks is at your own risk.

“A trip to the playground sounds fun, and viruses tend to spread less effectively outdoors. However, emerging evidence suggests that in a laboratory, COVID-19 can stay on different surfaces for hours to days. Therefore, it would be impossible to sanitize these parks on an hourly/daily basis,” a spokesperson for the City of Zachary said in a press release. “Play is at your own risk.”

While the data is changing, Christosferson said the virus can live on cardboard for 24 hours and stainless steel or plastic for up to 72 hours. However, there is a caveat to that. Viruses don’t tend to like hot and dry temperatures.

Experts say parents should carry hand sanitizer and approved disinfectant wipes to the park. If possible, disinfect equipment before your kids jump on it. If you can’t, make sure your kids wash their hands for a full 20 seconds or use sanitizer after.

That sounds good to the parents in the park Tuesday, March 17, because the virus isn’t scaring them away. Smith said it’s the perfect time to explore.

“This is those opportunities to do those things you don’t ordinarily do if you can still do those things,” LeBlanc-Smith added.

Christofferson said if you’re unsure whether or not you’re adhering to best practice or unable to adhere to best practicing, it’s best that you limit your contact with at-risk groups and the elderly.

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