Are Playgrounds Still Safe? What to Know About Getting Kids Outside amid Coronavirus Pandemic

"Children should play outdoors, but should avoid large congregations of other children and parents," an expert tells PEOPLE

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Getting kids out of the house can be a struggle, even when coronavirus concerns don’t sequester them indoors.

While social distancing is the recommended method of stopping the spread of COVID-19, that doesn’t mean families can’t turn off the TV and head outside.

“Children should play outdoors, but should avoid large congregations of other children and parents,” Robert A. Norton, a professor of veterinary infectious diseases, biosecurity and public health at Auburn University in Alabama, tells PEOPLE.

Norton adds that when getting kids outside, parents should use water bottles to avoid public drinking fountains and to steer clear of any spaces that typically see a high traffic of bodies.

“Playground equipment can potentially be contaminated, particularly if used by large number of children,” says Norton. “Public restrooms should be avoided if possible, particularly those that have large numbers of people circulating through. Family washrooms in stores are a good option.”

He adds: “Public surfaces like sinks and toilet seats should be thoroughly wiped down with germicidal wipes before use by child or parents.”

girl swinging on monkey bars at a playground

One of the most important tips for all parents, says Norton, is to quarantine any potentially sick little ones: “Children with sniffly noses, sneezing or coughing should remain at home.”

In some cases, the coronavirus does not present obvious symptoms, so it’s still encouraged to not spend time in public spaces so as not to spread the virus and transmit it to more at-risk people.

What outdoor activities can keep your kids active while healthy? Go for a hike or engage in any other practices that limit the amount of participants and remain distant from public areas when possible.

A young boy having fun sliding down a slide on a sunny day at a playground in Bushy Park London.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children are not a high-risk group for coronavirus fatalities.

The CDC recommends washing one’s hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or using hand sanitizer as a backup. Along with avoiding those who are sick (and self-isolating when you fall ill), it’s also key to disinfect “high-touch” surfaces like doorknobs, light switches, remotes and tables.

“Launder items including washable plush toys as appropriate in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions,” says the CDC. “If possible, launder items using the warmest appropriate water setting for the items and dry items completely. Dirty laundry from an ill person can be washed with other people’s items.”

According to The New York Times, there have been 4,482 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. with at least 86 deaths, as of March 17.

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