How safe is it to take your child to a playground? Go shopping? UNC Health expert weighs in

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- Nearly five months into the COVID-19 pandemic in North Carolina, you may still be wondering what are the safest activities for you and your family?

UNC Health experts are weighing in as the state reaches its highest point in COVID-19 cases with more than 116,000 people infected since the start of the outbreak.

"Coronavirus is spread in the manner that we most thought it would," said Dr. Emily Sickbert-Bennett, Director of Infection Prevention for UNC Hospitals.

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In prefacing her recommendations on how COVID-19 is primarily spread through respiratory droplets from an infected person to another susceptible person, Dr. Sickbert-Bennet said this about the following activities:

OUTDOOR PLAYGROUNDS:

"The issue of outdoor playgrounds, I think, really goes back to whether or not we can restrict how many people are in close proximity to one another," Sickbert-Bennett said.

She said surface contamination has been proven to be a secondary route of spreading the virus but maintaining physical distancing and ensuring good hand hygiene for children would be challenging.

"(Playgrounds) would need quite a bit of enforcement to keep the children separate from one another and then they'd have to of course be vigilant about any hand hygiene if they were having a snack on a picnic blanket away from the playground," she said.

Even though health officials have confirmed young children are less likely to get, spread, and become severely ill from the virus, Sickbert-Bennett said there's more to consider.

"It also is important to consider that they have interactions with many other age groups and people in other risk categories," she said. "So, while they themselves may not experience a very severe form of disease, they are capable of transmitting it to others."

FAMILY GATHERINGS:

Sickbert-Bennett said in light of what health officials have learned about how diverse the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 can be in the early stages, it's important to be cautious and transparent with yourself and others before attending a family gathering.

"It's really important for- especially at family gatherings- to just be so honest and so open and really tell the family that's involved, we'd love to see you, we want to see you, but not when you're not feeling well," she said.

BEACH VACATION:

A trip to the beach can be considered safe, Sickbert-Bennett said, while you're outdoors and if you're able to maintain physical distancing.

She warned of other activities beachgoers typically enjoy which may take them indoors. In those scenarios, she said mask wearing should be followed.

SHOPPING:

Sickbert-Bennett said health officials emphasized the risk of surface contamination early on in the pandemic.

"But if you think about the whole chain of transmission that needs to happen for a contaminated item to make you sick, it's actually very clear that that's not what we need to be focusing on most specifically," she said.

Stressing the importance of good hand hygiene and mask wearing while in public, Sickbert-Bennett said shopping should be considered a low-risk activity.
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