A: YES, playgrounds can be safe with some guidelines. The risk of transmission on an outdoor playground is low (but not zero).
The greatest risk of infection comes from the people on the playground, not the equipment. Skip the snack, pack some hand sanitizer, and stay SMART.
SPREAD OUT. Keep space between your crew and other visitors. Prepare yourself and the children to participate in an alternative activity if the playground is very busy. Visual reminders, like a red X on every other swing, can make it easier to follow guidelines while having fun.
MASK UP. There is no magic virus protecting force field on playgrounds (unfortunately). Adults and kids should wear masks. People who feel sick, have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, or been exposed to someone who tested positive should NOT go to playgrounds until their isolation or quarantine period is over.
PLAY OUTSIDE. The risk of transmission indoors greatly exceeds the risk outdoors. Save the giant indoor jungle gym for another time. Moving lessons and recess during the school day outdoors can decrease transmission risk AND give everyone a healthy change of pace.
RESTRICT GROUPS. Mixing multiple classrooms or families on a playground is still not a good idea. Be sure the social distance rules are clear for all involved (that includes adults) prior to entering the playground. This is hard! Visual cues, consistent rules, and friendly reminders go a long way!
KEEP VISITS SHORT. Shorter visits with smaller groups decrease the likelihood of transmission between people using the playground at the same time AND allows more groups to use the playground.
Do I need to sanitize the playground equipment before and after playing?
Focus on hands (and curious mouths). Surface transmission from the monkey bars is less likely than transmission between the people on the monkey bars. Sanitizing all hands before and after using the equipment is more realistic than sanitizing the whole playground between users and super important! Babies, toddlers, and even older kids if we are being honest like to put their mouths on things. If you expect something might get licked (or was previously licked) wipe it off with a disinfectant. Playground maintenance teams can post sanitation schedules for extra piece of mind.
Physical activity is incredibly important for children (and adults) and can even boost mental function. For older children, the loss of team sports and peer contact during the pandemic are more detrimental to physical function than the loss of a playground. Local guidelines and surging rates of infection could squash playground plans. Playground or not, indoor and outdoor outlets for physical activity are essential. Get up, get moving, and play safe!