Health experts offer tips to safely enjoy parks during pandemic
Loop North News

HEALTH

(Above) Adams Playground Park in Lincoln Park. Image obtained from Chicago Park District.

10-May-21 – As temperatures rise and days are longer, parents and kids will want to enjoy the many playgrounds and parks across Chicago. But what should parents do to keep their children and themselves safe from the coronavirus? Especially since kids are not yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccination.

Parents should keep in mind the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, says Katie Suleta, an epidemiologist with a background in infectious diseases. That means six feet apart and masked. The new CDC guidelines about masks outside are directed at vaccinated people.

Katie Suleta

After the park, handwashing with soap and water is best practice, or at least using hand sanitizer, she said.

“It’s important with everyone but kids in particular,” said Suleta (left), noting that kids often put their hands in their mouths or even their noses.

But how do parents manage factors out of their control such as an overcrowded playground or unmasked people? Dr. Sonia Ruparell, Pediatric Sports Medicine Fellow at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital, recommends parents make a plan with their kids. Parents should explain their expectations, such as mask-wearing, social distancing, and what they consider overcrowding at the park.

Having a backup plan is also a great idea, especially if the park is too crowded, suggests Dr. Ruparell. That might be going for a bike ride or going for a walk. Parents should make sure to communicate that backup plan with their kids, which will help manage expectations while also getting to enjoy the outdoors. It may not be easy to tell from just watching, especially with masks on their faces.

After the visit, parents should talk with kids about their experiences at the park, Dr. Ruparell recommends. That can be five minutes to ask if their kids enjoyed themselves or if they were anxious.

She recommends the “Rose, Bud, Thorn” activity that can help communicate how their kids felt about the experiences. With the “Rose,” parents ask what their kid liked best about the experience. Next with the “Bud” stage, parents ask what their kid looks forward to doing next time. Finally, with the “Thorn” stage, parents ask what their kids didn’t like or want to change.

“I’m a big proponent of getting outdoors and physical activity for our mental and physical health,” said Dr. Ruparell (right), “It’s important to have that conversation. You want it to be a positive experience.”

Sonia Ruparell

If it’s not a good experience, then try something else, she says. Once parents find outdoor activities that work for the family, it can become a routine, which is also helpful for kids and parents.

Dr. Ruparell stressed that there are many benefits to physical activity and being outdoors.

“It’s been a hard time for kids with school closures and reopenings,” she said, “All kids are doing a really great job of being resilient. We’ve seen time and time again that physical activity can better promote mental well-being and overall well-being.”

OJB Landscape Architecture

(Left) The Park at Lakeshore East. Image obtained from OJB Landscape Architecture.

Taking that walk or playing in the jungle gym might do a lot to make people happier and healthier and it only takes some planning to do it safely.

“Just remain vigilant a little while longer – keep physical distance, wear a mask, and wash hands,” said Suleta. And finally when it’s your turn, she says, make sure to get vaccinated.

By Elisa Shoenberger | Loop North News | bowlerhatfox@gmail.com

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