How to safely take children outside under Spain’s relaxed confinement measures

EL PAÍS spoke to an expert epidemiologist about how to minimize the risk of coronavirus contagion when under-14s are allowed to leave the home for accompanied walks

A mother puts a face mask on her son in the Basque city of Vitoria.
A mother puts a face mask on her son in the Basque city of Vitoria.Iñaki Berasaluce (Europa Press)
El País

From Sunday, children in Spain under 14 will be able to go out for walks between 9am and 9pm, within a one-kilometer radius of their homes and in the company of an adult. The government, which had originally included 14-year-olds in its provisions, confirmed the details of the new rules on Thursday, but parents still have many questions about how to minimize the risk of coronavirus contagion during these outings. In WhatsApp groups across Spain, families have been discussing a host of issues, from whether a child’s bicycle needs to be cleaned to whether it’s appropriate to eat during the walk.

María Elsa Calle, a professor at Madrid’s Complutense University School of Medicine who is an expert in epidemiology and preventive medicine, shared her advice on some of the most common concerns about the relaxation of confinement measures for children.

If a child leaves home with a bicycle or scooter, should it be left outside when we return? Does it need to be disinfected? If so, how?

It’s a good idea to leave the bicycle and scooter outside when you return, if that is possible, and always clean them. Rub them down with diluted bleach or 70% alcohol. The same goes for strollers.

Is it difficult for a child to use a face mask? How can I ensure they don’t touch it?

If they don’t approach other children or adults, they don’t have to wear one. If they do, there are face masks for children.

Should children wear gloves?

If they can wear them, that’s better. When you get home, the child has to take them off and wash their hands with hot water and soap. It’s advisable for the accompanying adults to also wear them.

Is it appropriate to walk holding hands?

If they are little, walk holding hands. If they are older, make sure they do not stray too far from your side.

Should I use normal sanitizing gel on children?

It’s better for them to wash their hands with hot water and soap for 20 seconds. Afterwards, if you want, use a hydroalcoholic gel.

Can children touch other people’s pets?

It’s better for them to avoid that.

Can children sit down on public benches?

It’s preferable that they don’t.

Do stuffed animals and other toys have to be washed after every outing?

Don’t bring stuffed animals along. Toys can be cleaned with diluted bleach or 70% alcohol.

Is taking a ball outside a bad idea?

It’s better not to use a ball, given that after being on the floor or the ground, they could bounce it against themselves or bring it near their face without meaning to. What’s more, they should not play with other children nor with adults who are not their normal caregivers.

Can children have a snack while outside?

It’s better if they don’t, to avoid them from trying to take food from one another, falling on the ground, etcetera.

Is it better to take children to the countryside or the park, rather than the street?

If you can go to the countryside because you live in a village, that’s better. If you live in a city take them out to the street and if it’s possible, because there’s one nearby, to the park. Open spaces are always better. It’s good to avoid closed spaces.

Given children can’t use street furniture, can they sit on the grass?

Generally that’s not advisable. In the grass, as well as dirt, there can also be animal excrement. It’s been found that the excrement of cats could have the virus and street cats are not controlled.

When we return home, do I have to wash the children’s clothes? Or give them a bath?

When you get back home, take off their gloves (if they have them) and clothes and wash them by hand with hot water and soap. In general, you don’t need to give them a bath unless they’ve fallen over. Shoes are better left at the entrance.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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