Some school playgrounds will stay closed

Not all Manitoba school playgrounds will be able to open next week, says the man who manages risk for the province's school boards.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 01/05/2020 (953 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Not all Manitoba school playgrounds will be able to open next week, says the man who manages risk for the province’s school boards.

“We’re taking a very cautious approach,” said Manitoba School Boards Association risk manager Darren Thomas.

Since Premier Brian Pallister announced Wednesday that playgrounds and similar recreation facilities may reopen Monday, Thomas has been trying to find out from the province what schools need to do to reopen their play structures without leaving themselves liable if someone catches COVID-19.

“If someone gets sick, they’re not going to sue the province, they’re going to sue the school and the division,” said Thomas. The schools were caught off guard by the news that playgrounds could reopen in just five days, he said.

Students enjoy a play structure at Pacific Junction School back when playgrounds were open. Newer play structures are composed of metal and plastic, surfaces that coronavirus is known to live on for up to 72 hours. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)

“We would’ve prepared for it a little better,” Thomas said Friday. The Restoring Safe Services guidelines released Wednesday said playgrounds could reopen “if people maintain a distance of at least two metres, except for brief exchanges.” That’s not much guidance or reassurance compared to other places, said Thomas.

On Monday, people will be permitted to golf but must maintain social distancing, sanitize their hands and are not allowed to touch the ball washer, he said.

“But you’re allowed to go to a playground.” The virus, he said, is known to live on plastic and metal surfaces for up to 72 hours.

“Kids constantly move from one structure to another and are quite prone to putting their hands on their faces,” said the father of two young children. “And we know that play structures are high-touch areas.” Thomas consulted with some school divisions, health experts, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and listened for public health information provided by the province’s chief health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, at his daily briefings.

“Kids constantly move from one structure to another and are quite prone to putting their hands on their faces.”
– Manitoba School Boards Association risk manager Darren Thomas

Even though the province has lifted restrictions to allow playgrounds to open Monday, only schools that can meet certain safety criteria will be allowed to reopen their playgrounds, said Thomas. Playground structures will have to be checked daily by maintenance staff. There must be signs posted advising people to follow social distancing guidelines and apply hand sanitizer before and after using the equipment, he said.

Since layoffs occurred because of the pandemic, not all schools have the maintenance staff to inspect playground equipment every day, said Thomas.

The risk manager fearing a lawsuit said Roussin put his mind at ease Friday at his daily briefing when he said more than once that kids playing at an outdoor playground is considered “low risk” for spreading COVID-19.

“We’re still going to have restrictions,” Roussin noted, with social distancing rules and gatherings limited to 10. They’re still advising frequent handwashing, or that people use hand sanitizer when they’re out and about in high-touch areas.

“We’re going to be dealing with this virus for some time but we have to find ways of still moving on with things.”
– Manitoba’s chief health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin

“We’re going to be dealing with this virus for some time but we have to find ways of still moving on with things,” said Roussin.

Thomas, whose young family lives close to a school playground, appreciates that.

“No one wants these playgrounds open sooner than me,” said the father of two boys, ages 12 and 8.

“They’re itching to use it. They like the activity. They say ‘dad, when can we use it?’,” said Thomas. “It weighs very heavily on my head — the risk to the boys and the public.”

The city plans to reopen its playgrounds next week, Winnipeg’s assistant chief of emergency management Jason Shaw said Thursday.

“Parents will be out with their kids and parents are going to be doing what they’ve always done.” said Shaw. “We’ll look to get some messaging out with our community service ambassadors to make sure that we’re providing safe messaging on how to use city play structures but we’re going back to where we were before COVID.”

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

with file from Joyanne Pursaga

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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