Transmission Risk Factors, and Mitigation of COVID-19 When Re-Opening Playground Equipment

Last Updated: May 28, 2020

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Purpose

This note provides a summary of lessons learned from evidence documents and jurisdictional
experiences on risk factors and mitigation strategies related to the transmission of COVID-19 from
playground equipment.

*The full Briefing Note including the Appendix is accessible in the PDF file at the top of the page*

Key Findings

Analysis for Ontario:

Supporting Evidence

The Summary of Evidence highlights lessons learned from evidence documents and Canadian/international experiences related to the transmission, risk factors, and mitigation strategies of COVID-19 when re-opening playground equipment.

Scientific Evidence

  • Findings from five highly-quality guidance documents found that:
    • There are a number of uncertainties surrounding transmission of COVID-19 in outdoor environments, but recreational areas must be assessed for transmission risks such that the appropriate combination of measures can be adopted.
    • It is not recommended to use playgrounds, including water playgrounds, located within local, state, or national parks because they are often crowded and could easily exceed recommended guidance for gatherings, and it can be challenging to keep surfaces clean.
      • Water playgrounds should consider different strategies to encourage healthy hygiene, maintain healthy environments, and maintain healthy operations.
    • Youth and summer camps should close shared spaces such as playgrounds with shared playground equipment (if possible), or otherwise stagger use and clean and disinfect between use.
    • Schools should assess their readiness to make safe adjustments to playtime and outdoor activities to ensure adherence to recommended measures and adopt hygiene and environmental cleaning to limit exposure.

International Scan

  • In Australia and New Zealand, the national government signalled that states and regional councils would be permitted to re-open parks and playgrounds at their discretion.
    • Playgrounds have been re-opened along with some park amenities, such as public bathrooms, but outdoor pools and splash pads remain closed, except in the state of Victoria, Australia.
    • Gatherings are permitted on playgrounds of up to 10 or less people (including any parents watching children), and parents, guardians, and children are asked to obey physical distancing measures.
  • In New Zealand, those using playground equipment are being asked to wash or sanitize their hands before and after playing, and in many cases signage to this effect has been installed.
  • In China, both public and paid-entry parks have been re-opened, which in many instances include playground equipment.
    • Key regulations for those using the equipment include increased disinfecting and cleaning of equipment and washrooms, clearing garbage more regularly and having it removed in sealed bags, keeping at least one-metre distance apart, limiting the size of gatherings in the park, and requiring staff and visitors to be wearing masks.

Canadian Scan

  • Several provinces and territories have re-opened playgrounds (British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Yukon, and Nunavut).
    • Some have emphasized the need to continue to follow key recommendations from public health officials in terms of hand hygiene or hand-mouth contact among children, maintaining physical distancing by children, as well as cleaning outdoor play equipment (particularly those located in daycare settings).
  • Of Canada’s 10 largest municipalities, only Edmonton and Winnipeg have opened playgrounds.
    • In Edmonton, those using playgrounds are advised to bring their own hand sanitizer and water, visit a playground in the neighborhood, maintain two metres of distance, and discourage the sharing of toys.
    • In Winnipeg, community-service department employees have been deployed to public parks to remind residents about how to safely use the amenities while following COVID-19 health and safety regulations. Further, the city has issued warnings that playgrounds are to be used at the individual’s own risk as the city is not increasing cleaning schedules.

Ontario Scan

  • In Ontario, outdoor playgrounds, play structures and equipment, fitness equipment, public swimming pools, splash pads, and similar outdoor water facilities will remain closed until later stages of the province’s reopening plan.
  • In Toronto, playgrounds, play structures, and equipment are currently closed by the city’s General Manager of Parks (in compliance with Ontario’s Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, which is in effect until June 2, 2020). However, skateboard parks, soccer and multi-use fields, baseball fields, outdoor basketball courts, tennis courts, platform tennis, and pickleball courts are currently open with restrictions.
  • In Mississauga, playgrounds and other park facilities within the City of Mississauga remain closed. Residents are permitted to use green spaces and trails as long as social distancing guidelines (a distance of two metres) are maintained.
  • In Hamilton, playgrounds, sports fields, pools, and drinking fountains remain closed. Skate parks and tennis and pickleball courts have re-opened, with specific guidance.

Methods

The COVID-19 Evidence Synthesis Network is comprised of groups specializing in evidence synthesis and knowledge translation. The group has committed to provide their expertise to provide high-quality, relevant, and timely synthesized research evidence about COVID-19 to inform decision makers as the pandemic continues. The following Network member provided an evidence synthesis product that was used to develop this Evidence Synthesis Briefing Note:

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