The Risk Of Children Catching Covid-19 On The Playground

Every Monday, we’ll answer your questions on Covid-19 and health in a feature published online. You can submit a question here.

HuffPost UK reader Laurie asked: “Is it safe for children to play outside together at recess and on equipment?”

With most young children now back at school across the UK, some parents are worried about the risks as their kids interact closely with others.

After all, we’ve been told touching infected surfaces and close contact interactions can spread the virus – and we know children aren’t as hot on hand-washing and personal space as adults.

But the reality is, there’s not much to be concerned about as far as outdoor playtime goes, say scientists – whether in a park or on the school playground.

There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, children are less likely to transmit the virus than adults, says professor Sarah Lewis, an expert in epidemiology at the University of Bristol. Previous studies have shown 1-5% of diagnosed Covid-19 cases occur in children, who tend to be asymptomatic. In young children (aged four to 11), evidence points to a reduced risk of becoming sick with the virus and spreading it.

A Public Health England study of school outbreaks in June found that out of more than one million children attending pre-school and primary school, only 70 children were affected. Other global studies reinforce this. One from South Korea suggested kids under 10 spread the virus far less often than adults do. Another from Singapore concluded the risk of Covid-19 transmission among children in schools, especially pre-schools, is likely to be low.

It’s worth noting that children can still spread the virus to adults – but again, the risk does appear to be low. During the first wave, living with children of any age was not associated with an increased risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection or severe outcomes from Covid-19, a study in the BMJ found, compared with not living with children. However during the second wave, when schools had reopened, there was a slightly increased risk of infection and hospital admission for adults.

We also know that outdoor transmission “very rarely occurs”, says Prof Lewis. “The only documented occurrences of this are at outdoor events which included an indoor element,” she explains. More transmissions occur inside, she notes. “In terms of viral transmission, it is very safe for children to play together outside.”

Factors such as the wind, fresh air and sunshine all help to disperse the virus.

“For children, risk from the virus is very low, but harm from stopping them from playing together is potentially high,” says Prof Lewis. “It is essential for both their mental and physical health that children are allowed to play together.”

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