Minimize groups, maintain social distance, don’t sit on park benches or touch playground equipment. Have fun!
Clark County and Vancouver parks officials want you to blow off steam, lift your spirits and maintain your health by visiting local parks and trails during the COVID-19 pandemic. They just want you to take advantage of all that space by spreading way out — and not touching any of the facilities.
Unfortunately, that means not sitting on park benches and not letting children swing, slide and clamber on playgrounds.
“It’s a good time to bring a blanket or a lawn chair to your local park,” said Melody Burton, spokeswoman for Vancouver Parks and Recreation.
Like many jurisdictions around the nation, Vancouver and Clark County have jointly adopted the National Recreation and Park Association’s coronavirus health and safety guidelines for park users, which urge “social distancing of 6 feet from other persons at all times.” They recommend Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines about limiting social gatherings like picnics, pick-up sports and “group hangouts.”
If you’re sick or you can’t follow the guidelines, the NRPA says, don’t use parks and trails.
Vancouver’s recommendations even go beyond NRPA’s in urging that outdoor social gatherings in parks — picnics, pickup games and general “group hangouts” — be limited to “no more than 10 people who live within the same household.”
NRPA’s recommendations don’t mention playgrounds and playground equipment, but scientists have reported that the coronavirus can survive for days on surfaces like stainless steel and plastic — so both Clark County and the city of Vancouver are urging caution and “best judgment” about playgrounds.
“Playground structures are not regularly sanitized. As always, hand washing after use of playground equipment is recommended. Use of sports fields, walking paths, open play space and trails is encouraged,” Vancouver’s website says.
“If children do come into contact with playground equipment, such as swings and slides, ensure they do not touch their face with unwashed hands,” says a statement from Marissa Armstrong of Clark County Public Health.
“Children should wash their hands with soap and water, or use a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol, immediately after coming into contact with playground equipment.”
Park bathrooms and other facilities are usually cleaned daily, said Magan Reed, spokeswoman for Clark County Parks, but thanks to a diminished workforce and a rapidly changing situation, “we can’t guarantee a sanitizing schedule. It’s best if people don’t touch playgrounds and other facilities.
“I certainly wouldn’t let my kids,” Reed said.
The city is preparing kid-friendly posters about playground safety that will get posted in parks and online, Burton said.
“A recent study found that the virus that causes COVID-19 can survive up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic or stainless steel,” says the The Harvard Medical School Coronavirus Resource Center.
“There’s a lot we still don’t know, such as how different conditions, such as exposure to sunlight, heat or cold can affect these survival times.”
Indoor play dates are not a good idea, Harvard warns, but outdoor play dates with children capable of following 6-foot social-distancing rules are a reasonable compromise.
Bike rides, hikes and other shared outdoor activities that bring people together while keeping them safely apart get the provisional OK — as long as you still follow the rules of social distancing. Parents must make that call for their children.
Here are the posted city of Vancouver guidelines, which are slightly more specific than the National Recreation and Park Association’s guidelines.
• Do not use parks or trails if you are exhibiting symptoms.
• Follow Centers for Disease Control guidance on personal hygiene prior to visiting parks or trails.
• Follow CDC guidance on the recommended size of social gatherings including outdoor picnicking, pick-up sports and other group hangouts, and maintain proper physical distance at all times.
• Be prepared for limited access to public restrooms or water fountains.
• Share the trail and warn other trail users of your presence as you pass.
• Observe CDC’s minimum recommended social distancing of 6 feet from other persons at all times.
• If these recommendations are not possible, users should find an alternate location or depart the space.
“The physical and mental health benefits of staying active and getting fresh air are especially important during this time of high anxiety and isolation,” Burton said. “For people who live in apartment buildings or homes without yards, public parks and trails are some of the few places they have access to outdoor space large enough to safely practice social distancing.”