Life has been tough for most of the world since March of 2020. Particulalry when trying to explain to children why their worlds turned upside down and things once constant--playdates and school and sports--just suddenly stopped as we battled the unknown. As the Delta variant threatens to bring on more possible closures, several experts are making the case for the continued openings of playgrounds as children's mental health and development is a major concern.

Many of our lives are diametrically different. We're working from home, remotely learning and even if we're back in school, gathering for lunch and recess on playgrounds looks different. So do regular, everyday parks and playgrounds in our neighborhood.

Shutdowns of everything from gymnastics facilities to playgrounds have meant less physical activity for kids all over the world.They're more sedentary, and that's why playgrounds staying open and outdoors activities are vital.

But as more children are contracting COVID than this time last year, parents and communities are worried and as a result, playground times and openings are limited. Particularly for kids who live in medium- and high-density housing and have little opportunity to roam and explore. Typically, this happens in lower-income communities, where children are already more vulnerable to the effects of COVID with regard to schooling and nourishing breakfasts and lunch.

And we recognize there ARE risks involved with playgrounds being open, but more experts are chiming in on how we need to look at risks vs. benefits when it comes to offering our children playground opportunity. There are things we can do to help minimize risk.

What’s the research on playgrounds and transmission?

In a nutshell? Not much. COVID and its effects still confound doctors as to the role in a human body. Not much at all has been looked at with regard to how it can be spread on playgrounds. NO research exists about the Delta variant and playgrounds.

There ARE studies about COVID on surface contamination. Three come from Israel, Brazil and Indonesia. Some samples of playground surfaces (two out of 25 in the Israeli study) tested positive. The Brazil study (which collected samples in February 2021) identified toilets, ATMs, handrails, playground, and outdoor gym equipment as having the highest rates of viral contamination of all surfaces studied.

The thing is, though, there's no real evidence of whether the surfaces led to transmission on playgrounds. The Indonesian study implied that if children were sharing food or drinks, that may be more likely. And we know that none of the studies looked at Delta so there's no real way to feel super sure about playgrounds now.

Just remember that surface contamination doesn't mean that transmission is automatic. In fact, cautious outdoor living may even decrease rates because people aren't crammed inside where transmission is more likely due to close contact. And while data shows that park use increased with school closures, it doesn't necessarily show association with the growth (or lack of) COVID-19 levels.

With proper planning, you can enjoy the playground and let your children play and exercise. Find playgrounds that are cleaned regularly (or clean the play equipment your child will use yourself with wipes). Have children watch how close they play with others. We know that's not always possible, but work with your children to share boundaries that will still let them play on equipment.

Keep your children home if unwell. When you take them out unwell, you risk losing playground access for all. Have a water bottle so you can avoid shared water fountains and consider wipes or sanitizer while at the park to avoid shared faucets. Try not to share toys with other children at the playground and try to be at the park or playground when it's not as crowded. Talk to your children about trying to keep their hands away from their faces (we know, we know...but just try to talk to them!) and keep an eye on neighborhood community positivity rates when making your decisions.

Many of our toddlers and preschoolers don't know anything BUT life in quarantine or isolation. We need to get them out. We need to help them develop. We need to do it safely and we need to keep playgrounds an option.