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Open Playgrounds Welcome News For Many, But Not All Parents

Playgrounds throughout Durham, N.C. city parks were closed March 26, 2020 after Mayor Steve Schewel issued a stay-at-home order for the city in an effort to battle the coronavirus pandemic.
Chuck Liddy

Five months after the pandemic forced many public places to shut down, playgrounds have reopened. It's welcome news for many parents, but not necessarily all.  Shawnte Kelley of Durham isn't sure her family is ready to get back into the swing of things.

Kelley's three-year-old son is tired of being cooped up in their apartment. But he has Autism and he hates wearing a mask even more than other kids. He loves to feel things in his mouth.

"And he doesn't really understand about people and personal place," Kelley said. "So, if there are a lot of people there and I do take him to a playground, he may get really close to people and I may have a hard time, with, you know, trying to social distance."

Kelley said she might check out her local playground during a low traffic time or find another green space where her child can run around.

Matthew Strain of Durham says his children — ages six and three — would love nothing more than to get back to their neighborhood playground after pandemic orders kept it shuttered for five months. But Strain says his kids are too young to reliably keep their masks on and give others the recommended physical distance.

"I just can't justify the risk of going out there are doing it, whether it's the risk of, you know, me and my family being exposed or, honestly, whether it's the risk of us exposing someone else," said Strain, adding he'll probably wait for the novelty to wear off and bring his kids by the park in the off-hours a few weeks from now.

Other parents like Whitney Murphey are ready to get back on the playground.

When Murphy of Durham told her four and seven year old children playgrounds were reopening, she said they actually jumped for joy.

"Being able to kind of let their hair down and run an play in a place that's different than their backyard," she said. "The playground seems like a really reasonable risk level. We're outside. This doesn't feel very scary."

Durham Public Health Director Rod Jenkins wrote in an email that parents should try to make sure children keep physical distance from others and wear face coverings at all times.

Rebecca Martinez produces podcasts at WUNC. She’s been at the station since 2013, when she produced Morning Edition and reported for newscasts and radio features. Rebecca also serves on WUNC’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accountability (IDEA) Committee.
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