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In-Depth: When will San Diego playgrounds reopen?

State offers little guidance to reopen playgrounds
Playground Caution Tape.png
Posted at 6:08 AM, Sep 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-18 15:55:14-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Swings and slides sit still across San Diego County, with caution tape wrapped around jungle gyms. Signs warning of coronavirus exposure tell hopeful parents and children the playgrounds they love are still closed.

And no one seems to know when that will change."Kids do get infected with COVID, just like adults do," says Dr. Mark Sawyer, a Pediatric Infectious Disease Physician at Rady Children's Hospital.

"This is why we're worried about kids gathering because they potentially could get infected there and bring the infection home to more high-risk individuals who live in their house."

Playgrounds have been closed since the start of the pandemic in March.

ABC 10News reached out to San Diego County Officials to see if they have any guidelines in place. A spokesperson referred us to the State Reopening Guidelines.

In hundreds of pages of reopening guidelines and plans, the word "playground" only comes up a handful of times. One is in the Industry Guidance for Campgrounds, RV Parks, and Outdoor Recreation. It advises campgrounds that "Playgrounds should also remain closed."

Another time is in the State's new Blueprint Activity and Business Tiers for reopening. It specifies that Family Entertainment Centers can reopen Indoor Playgrounds at 50% capacity once their county reaches the Yellow or least restrictive tier.

Parents and some lawmakers are growing frustrated at the lack of clarity for City and County-owned playgrounds at parks.

On Tuesday, a group of two dozen state lawmakers sent a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom asking him to create clear guidelines for reopening. San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer tweeted his support for the letter.

Doctors, however, urge caution.

"Playgrounds are gold mines for transmissions for other diseases," says Dr. Christian Ramers, an Infectious Disease Specialist at Family Health Centers of San Diego.

"Kids get runny noses. There's a lot of touching there. Kids are touching everything with their hands. So I think there's uncertainty."

Still, studies show kids need outdoor physical activity. A recent report from the American Academy of Pediatrics reinforced guidelines that say kids 3-5 years old should get 3 hours of physical activity every day. Kids 6-17 need at least one hour.

"I really think kids should be able to play," says Dr. Jaime Friedman, a Pediatrician with Children's Primary Care Medical Group. She says small groups should be able to use playgrounds as long as they wipe down equipment and maintain social distancing.

"But, I think it would be hard to mandate that everybody has to do it in that way or make a schedule of who can be on the playground...

"The important thing is that they need to make sure they're washing their hands, not touching their face, and if other kids show up, or other families show up, then you probably want to get out of there," Dr. Friedman says.

There's also a mental health aspect to the debate, as studies show outdoor play helps kids avoid anxiety, depression, and negative feelings.

Rady Child Psychologist Brent Crandal says it's up to parents to get creative with play and find other outdoor options.

"We can take advantage of all the spaces near playgrounds that seem to be open to the public," Dr. Crandal says. "There are hiking trails. There are beaches. There are a lot of outdoor areas to take advantage of."

Many parents have decided to break the rules and let their kids use playgrounds anyway. Some playgrounds have added padlocks on swingsets and slides to enforce the rules.

In the meantime, City and County leaders say they can't do anything until the state releases specific guidelines for playgrounds.

Doctors say the best way to get playgrounds open again is to work towards eliminating the virus.

"The only way to control this is community-wide effort to follow the guidelines which are basically wearing a mask and staying away from other people," says Dr. Sawyer from Rady Children's Hospital. "If we do that, we're going to win this battle."