British Columbia

School playgrounds reopen in northern B.C.

Schools superintendant said the decision was made considering advice that outside activities are preferred along with emerging evidence that children aren't COVID-19 vectors.

School District 60 in consultation with Northern Health say 'use at your own risk'

While school playgrounds are now open in northeastern B.C., the Vancouver School Board says it's considering a gradual approach. (Franny Karlinsky/CBC)

School playgrounds in Peace River North District 60 are open again, but don't expect 10-year-old Kori Meyer to be swinging from the monkey bars any time soon.

"I think that the little kids should not go because they don't know how to properly social distance, they pick their nose and they touch everything and they don't know how to cough in their hands," said the fourth grader from Fort St. John, B.C. 

Meyer has science fair research to back up her position. Recently she cultured swab samples taken from a public bathroom door handle, a shopping cart handle, a gas pump handle and the mouth of someone who was sick. 

"I watched the bacteria grow and measured it," she said. "The mouth with the cold virus was the most bacteria." 

Despite Meyer's findings, School District 60, in consultation with Northern Health, is going ahead with the playground reopenings, announcing the equipment is "use at your own risk," and noting it will not be cleaned.

Like most communities and school districts in the B.C., it chose to close playgrounds in March in order to comply with public health orders aimed at tackling the coronavirus pandemic.

Superintendent Stephen Petrucci can't say if his district is now the first to reopen playgrounds, but he does believe the move makes sense. 

School District 60 playground reopening announcement. (SD60)

"Our region has been quite obedient and respectful of the [provincial health officer's] recommendations and so to get a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel in terms of an additional way that people can get outside and that children can find a way to get some exercise, I think it's going to be well received," he said.

As of May 11, Northern Health had detected 57 cases of COVID-19, the lowest of all five provincial health regions.

Petrucci realizes not all parents will be comfortable allowing their children back in the playgrounds. But considering advice from Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry to go outside and emerging information that children are less affected by COVID-19 and rarely vectors in transmitting it, he feels the timing is right. 

"All of those factors led us to clarify that the playground equipment can be used," he said.

School and community playgrounds across the Lower Mainland remain closed. 

Ten-year-old Kori Meyer doesn't plan on going to a Fort St. John playground anytime soon. (Submitted by Meyer family)

The Vancouver School Board told CBC that, "district staff are considering reopening of facilities gradually," but could not say if playgrounds would be reopening soon.

Vancouver Coastal Health says it's up to recreation facilities operators to make sure they are compliant with provincial health orders that restrict gatherings to 50 people or less, promote physical distancing and call for enhanced cleaning of high-touch surfaces or shared equipment.

For her part,  Meyer says she plans to avoid the playgrounds in her hometown, choosing instead to wage nerf wars with the neighbours. From a safe distance, of course.

"People should be more aware [of COVID-19] so when the second wave comes it won't be so bad," she advises.

With files from Andrew Kurjata

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