Coronavirus will be high on every school and nursery agenda at the moment and staff, parents and even children will have concerns about its spread. As providers of playground equipment, we have a specific interest in how Coronavirus can be spread in the playground and have been researching government, NHS and scientific guidance for schools and nurseries. Here is a summary of the most important information we have found.
Outdoor play is beneficial
Although outdoor play cannot stop you getting Coronavirus, the opportunity to participate in exercise and to increase Vitamin D levels through exposure to sunlight can improve your body’s ability to fight the virus, making it less likely that an infection will become serious. According to Prof Arne Akbar of University College London and president of the British Society for Immunology, exercise increases blood flow and this mobilises white blood cells, enabling them to better ‘seek and destroy’ viruses in the body. Exercise also helps reduce stress, which is another way to boost the immune system - as is increasing our Vitamin D levels which are naturally lower during the winter when there is less sunlight and we don’t go outside as often.
In addition, playing in outdoor spaces gets pupils away from the more densely occupied and heavily trafficked areas of the school or nursery where there is more chance of someone getting infected. Indeed, reducing the length of time children are in these areas decreases the potential for surfaces to get contaminated. Overall, ensuring children can still play outside and take part in physical activities can be a positive step in safeguarding against Coronavirus.
Advice when playing outdoors
According to the UK government, there is currently no reason to stop doing outdoor play and sports as you normally would. However, hand hygiene should be strongly promoted and pupils should wash their hands (or use hand sanitiser) when entering and leaving the school or nursery. This can reduce the potential for outdoor equipment and surfaces getting contaminated and help prevent the virus being brought from the playground back into the building.
Besides hands, it is also important to ensure surfaces remain clean. This includes outdoor play equipment, outdoor classroom resources, playground toys, sports equipment, tables, seats, shelters handrails and door or gate furniture.
Advice from the World Health Organization tells us that Coronavirus can live on surfaces for up to several days. However, this depends on several factors, such as the type of surface, exposure to sunlight, temperature and humidity. In most instances, the amount of coronavirus on a contaminated surface will have decreased substantially after 24 hours and potentially even more on outdoor surfaces.
Dr Jenny Harries, England's Deputy Chief Medical Officer, said that Coronavirus will not survive very long outside and that many outdoor events are safe. Although the government’s planned specific advice on cleaning equipment has not yet been published, all outdoor equipment should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected after use, especially objects that are frequently touched by hands.
The government has, however, released information about keeping educational establishments clean in circumstances where staff suspect that there may be a case of Coronavirus – i.e. is someone is showing symptoms. In these situations, the school or nursery must follow ‘current workplace legislation and recommended practice’, cleaning all the surfaces that the individual has come into contact with, using disposable cloths and household detergents. Things needing to be cleaned include any surfaces or objects that are ‘visibly contaminated with bodily fluids’ and any potentially contaminated high-contact areas or items.
However, if a person suspected of having the virus only passes through an area or has spent limited time there, and there are no surfaces visibly contaminated with body fluids, deep cleaning and disinfecting are not (at the time of publication) currently required.
Unless government advice changes, outdoor play, learning and sports should continue to take place in schools and nurseries; indeed there may be benefits to the immune system from doing so. When outdoors, it is advised that pupils should wash or sanitise their hands on exit and return to the main building and that regular cleaning and disinfecting of playground equipment should take place, especially surfaces that come into contact with hands or bodily fluids.
Please note that Coronavirus is a new virus and that guidance and advice may be subject to change as more is learnt about it. For more information read the Gov.uk page Guidance to educational settings about COVID-19.