The ups and downs of playgrounds and masks during a pandemic

( file photo)

The Medical Officer of Health for Chatham-Kent said parents shouldn’t worry if playground equipment isn’t being cleaned often now that playgrounds will be open.

Outdoor recreational facilities, including playgrounds and splash pads, will be open starting on Friday under Phase 3 of Ontario’s reopening.

Dr. David Colby told the Board of Health on Wednesday the COVID-19 virus doesn’t last long on surfaces because the sunlight and the heat destroy it quickly. He said there will be some cleaning and sanitizing of playground equipment but the best thing the public can do is continue to wash and sanitize their hands.┬áColby said the research shows the virus is weakened on a hot summer day.

He added that the virus spreads through direct and close contact and not by touching surfaces.

“On surfaces, it deteriorates very quickly and COVID-19 is an enveloped virus, which makes it very fragile in the environment,” said Colby. “I do believe the PUC has some protocols for cleaning that are a little more than usual but that’s not really the way this virus spreads significantly,” he added.

He hopes playground use will help take away density at the splash pads to give playing children a little more breathing room. Colby also said he held off on opening splash pads because it didn’t make sense to have them open next to closed playground equipment. He reemphasized that municipal pools are not open and probably won’t be this summer because physical distancing can’t be maintained.

Dr. Colby also expressed concern about masks being politicized.

Masks or cloth face coverings are still not mandatory in Chatham-Kent and Colby reiterated, as he has for months, there’s “very little evidence that they do very much.” He said the data on masks is “all over the map” and they give people a false sense of security. Colby added masks are often not worn properly and people keep touching them when their face gets irritated, which is very risky.

“Many of the masks we see are not worn correctly. People wearing them under their nose, I’ve seen people cutting out places for their mouths and I shake my head,” said the doctor.

He said there’s no need to issue a mandatory order to wear masks in Chatham-Kent because it’s been a long time since the virus was spread through community transmission. Colby added the spread is mostly through close contact now and professionals such as waiters and salon workers must wear a mask. Colby said masks and face coverings are more of a courtesy than protection.

Colby said wearing disposable masks can also create a significant disposal and environmental hazard.

He also told the Board of Directors he doesn’t expect a local surge in COVID-19 cases during Phase 3 of Ontario’s reopening.