By Chuck Wellenberger
For months now, those of us that cherish the involvement and fellowship of our local bodies of believers have had to do so virtually or with forced, sparsely populated worship services. For parents traditionally attending services with young children, it is important to know that while we hear God’s message, our children are safe, having fun, and learning lessons expounding on the basic tenants of Christianity we teach at home.
The Coronavirus has impacted us all, the spreading has not ceased, and it is very important that all places of worship have thoughtful reopening plans in place. While we hear rumors that a vaccine could become available in the coming months, and new treatments have the overall number of deaths in the United States curving downward sharply, extra safety precautions should definitely be put in place for all those attending public worship, especially for our children.
Understanding the current potential threats of COVID-19, is it safe for kids to return to the indoor playgrounds in our churches? Are playgrounds safe? First, it is important to stay up-to-date on the everchanging CDC guidelines, and the official federal, state, and local guidelines for public indoor gatherings in your area. That said, although it’s impossible to negate all risks in anything we do, there are many best practices that will drastically reduce the risk of children contracting this virus or other illnesses.
IT STARTS WITH THE VOLUNTEERS AND CAREGIVERS
Volunteers and Caregivers will truly be the front-line heroes for our children attending church, and never has it been more important to accept this special calling. Being a child’s hero, albeit a Cleaning Superhero, is a great reward and deserves our appreciation. Equally important is making sure these volunteers take care of themselves so they can take care of others.
- It is critical that those watching our children have no signs of COVID-19, and if they do, as difficult as it is to turn children away from class, they must stay home. Employing temperature checks and asking simple questions about recent travel or exposure can help, as sick people may not realize they are infected.
- It is nearly impossible to maintain physical distancing from the children, so masks must be worn, and frequent washing of hands, use of hand sanitizer after each encounter, and/or several pairs of disposable gloves should be used.
- Wear a “carpenter’s shirt” or something with long sleeves and have a backup in case bodily fluids from a sneeze or saliva is transferred to your shirt. This may keep you and other children safe from possible transfer to others.
BEFORE THINKING ABOUT THE PLAYGROUND
Children’s temperatures should also be checked, along with general observation – looking for signs of COVID-19 or any sickness before being allowed in the room. COVID-19 symptoms may include cough, fever (100.4 or greater), shortness of breath, chills, fatigue, muscle pain or body aches, headache, sore throat, loss of taste or smell, congestion or runny nose, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Additionally, each room should be organized with physical distancing and safety in mind.
- Consider staggering drop-off times.
- Invest in touchless thermometers. With tight budgets, many charitable organizations can help supply these items.
- Have hand sanitizer readily available at the entry to the room and indoor playground entrance and ensure adult supervision for use.
- Keep snack areas separate from play areas and provide foot pedal litter receptacles.
HOW AND HOW OFTEN TO CLEAN YOUR INDOOR PLAYGROUNDS
Cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting are different in their definition and can be used at different times. Always ensure the correct use, labeling, and storage of all cleaning agents. Further, many indoor playgrounds come with cleaning instructions that identify potentially harmful chemicals to the components used. Toys or play items that cannot be cleaned such as stuffed animals or dress-up items should not be used.
- Cleaning is using soap and warm water to remove physical dirt and grime, and chemical and microbial substances from the surfaces.
- Wipe down the high traffic areas with warm soapy water before sanitizing. This should be done between groups and classes.
- Sanitizing is using chemicals or other verified methods to reduce the number of germs on clean surfaces to a safe level.
- After cleaning, sanitize the indoor playground unit between classes. There are many sanitizers available that are both kid and eco-friendly, with the strength to kill up to 99.9% of germs, as identified on their labels. It’s important to follow the directions closely.
- Disinfecting is using chemicals to eliminate 100% of the germs listed on the product label, which may include bacteria, fungi, or viruses.
- Because the equipment will be cleaned and disinfected throughout the day, the use of powerful disinfectants to perform a deep cleaning is not needed weekly unless there is a positive case of COVID-19 in the program. A monthly deep, disinfecting should suffice.
FINALLY, PLAYING ON THE INDOOR PLAYGROUND
The children are showing no symptoms of the virus, the volunteer and caregiver heroes are ready to teach and have fun, and the indoor playground is clean. Let the fun begin!
- Before entering the playground, wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after use.
- Adults and older children who can safely use hand sanitizer: Use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol and rub hands together until dry, if soap and water are not readily available.
- Wear a Mask. Masks are most essential in times when distancing is difficult. Masks should not be placed on:
- Children under age 3
- Anyone that has trouble breathing
- Maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet away from people with which you do not live. Do not visit parks/playgrounds where you cannot stay at least 6’ away from others.
- Feel great about the service you have performed!
Taking all of these precautions is important in reducing spread of the virus, but ultimately, families must decide their comfort level in using any public space. The Volunteers and Caregivers that willingly take on these extra responsibilities to help the social and emotional health of our children while teaching God’s word embody Philippians 2:3-4, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interest of the others.”
With solid church planning and preparation, prayer for leadership, consistent communication, and the work of amazing volunteers, we can rest easy, focus on the messages, and feel confident in the safety of our children as they receive valuable social, physical, and spiritual growth each week at church.
Additional information can be found on the CDC website at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/cleaning-disinfecting-decision-tool.html.
Chuck Wellenberger is vice president and general manager of American Parks Company, www.americanparkscompany.com.