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Coronavirus: Is it safe for my B.C. kid to play outside with friends?

Last Updated Jun 4, 2020 at 2:07 pm PDT

In this stock image, children balance on a fallen tree in the woods. (Courtesy OutsidePlay)
Summary

Kids are at a low risk of contracting COVID-19 – but underlying health issues could make them vulnerable

Novel coronavirus does not spread easily outdoors

Expert recommends keeping kids away from friends if they lie with vulnerable family members

NEWS 1130 is working hard to get you the information you need about the COVID-19 pandemic.

When you have questions, NEWS 1130 Gets Answers.

Question:

Ray reached out with a question from his four-year-old son: “Can I play with the kids outside?”

Ray says he lives in a townhouse complex where the kids “live on the streets in a safe environment.”

He wants his son to “have some socialization in these formative years” but wants to know if it’s safe to play with his friends.

Answer:

Children are at a low risk of contracting the novel coronavirus – especially when they’re outdoors.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any risks when your kids play with their friends.

Less than one per cent of children and youth who have been tested in B.C. have been found positive for COVID-19, according to the Ministry of Health.

“Most children are not at high risk for COVID-19 infection and are not the primary drivers of COVID-19 spread in schools or in community settings,” a ministry spokesperson wrote in an email.

“We also know that it’s less risky outside than inside. Like most viruses, this virus is susceptible to ultraviolet light and doesn’t spread as well outside.”

The province recommends the following guidelines to keep kids safe while playing outside:

  • Keep the gathering small.
  • Avoid close greetings (e.g., hugs).
  • For younger children, maintaining physical distance is less practical and the focus should be on minimizing physical contact instead. Talk about physical touching with young kids. Regularly remind them to ‘keep your hands to yourself.’
  • Encourage appropriate hand hygiene practices before, during and after outdoor play.
  • Children from the same household (e.g., siblings) do not need to maintain physical distance from each other.

 

Three Canadian doctors touted the benefits of getting kids out of the house during the novel coronavirus pandemic in a blog post published by advocacy group Outdoor Play Canada on May 22.

“When we go outdoors, we are more physically active, reduce our screen time, and sleep better – and all of these things makes our immune system more robust and increases our defence against COVID-19 and any other challenge to our health,” wrote doctors Louise de Lannoy, Mariana Brussoni and Mark Tremblay.

Citing a Chinese study that has yet to be peer reviewed, the doctors say the risk of contracting the virus outdoors is relatively low compared to when people are indoors.

The study analyzed case reports from 320 cities in China. The researchers found that the vast majority of the outbreaks happened indoors, identifying only one outbreak “in an outdoor environment,” which involved two people.

“All identified outbreaks of three or more cases occurred in an indoor environment, which confirms that sharing indoor space is a major SARS-CoV-2 [novel coronavirus] infection risk,” the study’s abstract concludes.

De Lannor, Brussoni and Tremblay also said getting kids outside can “help them process the new normal” and playing can “help children process their own emotional responses to adversity and stress.”

But any outdoor activity should be done away from large groups, the doctors say.

If going to a park, they recommend doing so at off-peak times to avoid crowds and say you should consider going back home if it’s busy. They also say you should avoid touching communal surfaces.

Dr. Anna Banerji, a professor of pediatrics and public health at the University of Toronto, said there are risks involved when kids play together outside.

Most kids with the virus will have very minor symptoms or none at all, she said. But they could still transmit it to another kid who has underlying health issues making them more vulnerable to COVID-19.

Young carriers of the disease could also take it home to sick or vulnerable family members such as grandparents, Banerji said.

“I would suggest that people who have family members (children, adults with underlying disease, or the elderly) hold off on having the children play,” she said.

Most public playgrounds remain closed in Metro Vancouver, with some local mayors saying they are waiting on more guidance from the province before reopening them.

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