Dear Miriam | Playground Interaction Causes Consternation

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Dear Miriam, 

At the playground recently, my kids and I ran into a family we are friendly with. While normally this would be great for everyone, I know that the child we were seeing had stayed home sick from school that day. What would be the best way to handle this to keep my kids healthy but also not insult these friends? 


Avoiding Infection 

Dear Avoiding,

Alas, sometimes there will be sick kids at playgrounds, and you won’t even know about it. Knowing about a confirmed illness while seeing the sick kid interacting with your own children is arguably worse than speculating about every kid at the playground, but it’s a close call. It pains me to say this 18 months into the COVID era, but a cost of being around other people is potential exposure to other people’s germs.

Now, in this case, the family likely should not have been at the playground but, even so, and as hard as it is to accept, that’s not your call. As much as we could wish that everyone had the common good in mind, you don’t know the specifics of the illness, and you don’t own the public space.

Your choices were 1) take your kids and leave, 2) stay but ask your kids to keep some distance from the sick child or 3) let it be and sanitize the heck out of everyone and everything before giving out snacks or going home. No. 3 is probably more psychologically reassuring than actually germ-preventing, but welcome to 2021.

Depending on your relationship with the parents, you might – MIGHT – have been able to say something like, “I’m glad to see so-and-so feeling better, but I would be more comfortable with our kids playing together if they’re all masked.” You certainly always have the option to enforce masking for your own children, but in this case, you really want the sick kid masked. You could also say something like, “Let’s all use hand sanitizer before sharing our chalk,” but one errant nose wipe makes that strategy instantly irrelevant.

The bigger question here, and one I can’t answer for you, is what level of risk are you willing to take on? We’ve all asked ourselves this question so many times since 2020 that you may no longer be able to provide yourself with a straightforward answer. But the question is baked into every decision we make about where we go and who we see.

While the other family almost definitely should have been at home, you don’t get to influence their decision-making risk assessment. You only get to control your own.

Be well,



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