More than 800 Toronto playgrounds are currently banned due to COVID-19. How dangerous will they be in stage 3?

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Just after noon on a balmy summer day, the popular Jamie Bell Adventure playground in High Park is deserted.

The swings are still, the castles and slides abandoned, the nearby picnic tables populated with a plastic fork and a can of soft drink.

The yellow tape meant to discourage people from using the equipment has fallen to the ground in places, mingling with last year’s leaves.

Residents say there are people breaking the law and using the playground, but this July afternoon, it looks like provincial regulations that closed the playgrounds at the start of the COVID outbreak -19 are respected.

“It’s disappointing that the playgrounds aren’t open, but I also want to keep my child safe,” said Mary-Beth Liberatore, cycling nearby with her eight-year-old daughter.

Don Sage, visiting the Bathurst and St. Clair area with his two children, aged five and three, said he began to keep them away from playgrounds even before orders to close them – his woman is a frontline worker.

“It’s safer,” Sage said, while admitting it’s difficult for children.

“We live in an apartment, so we are really paying the price.”

It’s too early to start counting the days before the playgrounds in Toronto reopen – on July 17, 24 of the province’s 34 public health districts moved to Stage 3 of the reopening, meaning that playgrounds may again be put into operation, but Toronto was not among them. Toronto will also not be among the other seven regions entering Stage 3 on July 25, including York and Durham.

Only Toronto, Peel Region and Windsor-Essex will remain in Stage 2 last Friday.

The city estimates that when Toronto is cleared to enter Stage 3, it will take two to three days to remove the warning tape and signage from its more than 800 playgrounds, install physical distance signage at the need and undertake general cleaning.

Toronto Public Health (TPH) also recommended that, where possible, the Parks Department relocate benches to ensure they are at least two meters apart and remove picnic tables from areas. of games to discourage people from congregating.

TPH asks parents to prepare too, by teaching their children good hand washing techniques; warning them to avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands, and telling them to cover up a cough. Parents are urged to stay home if or their children are ill and to ensure that their children wash their hands before and after using play equipment.

TPH also recommends that when playgrounds reopen, parents bring their own hand sanitizer, wipes, bottled water, and other personal items and wear a mask or face shield when it is difficult to maintain their physical distance. (Children under two should not wear a mask.)

It is recommended that if a park is very busy, parents should find another park or come back another time.

Thinking about the likelihood of being infected with COVID-19 after touching a contaminated surface has changed since the start of the epidemic, but caution is still in order.

“We now know that the virus spreads more easily indoors than outdoors,” said Dr. Vinita Dubey, assistant medical officer of health for Toronto.

Of all the cases studied by TPH, 58% of people acquired their infection as a result of close contact with someone with COVID-19. The number of cases linked to contaminated surfaces – called fomite transmission – is unknown.

“Sometimes it can be difficult to determine exactly where someone contracted COVID-19 because the infection could have been acquired 14 days before symptoms started,” Dubey said.

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“We also know that COVID-19 is spread primarily from respiratory droplets through close contact with an infectious person. Spread by fomites is not considered a primary method by which COVID-19 can be spread. ”

UV light in ordinary, everyday sunlight can also play an important role in deactivating surfaces contaminated with the virus, according to Dubey.

Toronto’s medical officer of health, Dr Eileen de Villa, echoed the sentiment at a press conference on Wednesday to educate the public about COVID-19.

“When it comes to surfaces, they’re less of a concern than they would have been when we didn’t know as much about the virus,” she said.

Nonetheless, the playing fields remain closed and Mayor John Tory said on Wednesday they likely won’t reopen until Toronto enters Stage 3.

The danger is not only that children can get infected by touching infected surfaces, but also that they can infect each other while playing, Dubey said.

The city doesn’t know how many tickets have been issued for illegal use of gaming equipment – it doesn’t keep the data at that level. It handled more than 13,000 complaints regarding the illegal use of city facilities between April 1 and July 21. This encompasses all amenities, including basketball courts, athletic fields, barbecues and bonfires, among others, and does not properly reflect the number of scofflaws using the playground equipment. A total of 740 tickets were issued to people illegally using the city’s amenities and over 25,000 warnings were issued. The fine is $ 750.

Playgrounds have seen many evolutions over the years, according to Alex Mut, who manages construction capital projects for the city’s parks, forestry and recreation division.

Recently, for example, concerns about the safety of playgrounds have raised concerns that playgrounds no longer offer enough challenges or play value.

He says it’s too early to say if something as deep as a pandemic will change the way playgrounds are designed.

“Will there be a possibility that they will design fountains with hand washing stations as part of them?” Perhaps. To be honest, I don’t know at the moment. I think that’s a great question. It will be an interesting conversation in the future, ”said Mut.

“I would just say that I think COVID-19 is going to influence the way we do a lot of things and design is definitely something we do that can be influenced. How much this will influence the design is a work in progress. “

Francine Kopun is a Toronto-based reporter who covers City Hall and municipal politics for The Star. Follow her on Twitter: @KopunF

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