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Focus on children: playgrounds, youth sports, lead abatement

CITY HALL – The city has giving up trying to keep people out of playgrounds during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. The barricading tape is down, but signs urge everyone to stay at least six feet apart. Officials hope people will also wear their face masks and use hand sanitizer generously on themselves and their children.

“You parents can figure out what’s best for your kid and whether or not you can take the best precautions,” Mayor Lyda Krewson said in her livestreamed press conference on Monday.

The city’s health director, Dr. Fredrick Echols, doesn’t like the move to reopen the playgrounds, Krewson acknowledged. But “you have to apply some practicality to this,” Krewson said, because people have been flocking to the playgrounds despite their being officially off-limits.

Meanwhile, for those who want more organized youth play, Echols is working with athletic directors, coaches and superintendents to see if they can come up with a plan that would allow youth sports.

“Some schools have decided that they’re just not going to do youth sports right now,” Krewson noted.

The biggest issue is testing – how often the athletes and staff would need to be tested, and how. Infection control procedures would also need to be specified. The plan would primarily focus on students at the high school level.

Younger students are currently allowed to practice, in groups of no more than 11. Groups have to stay separate, so that if anyone tests positive, officials know whom to test and quarantine.

Krewson said she knew people were eager to play sports.

“Everybody is trying to find a way, but we’ve got to find a way that is safe,” she said. “It’s a struggle to figure out” exactly guidelines to set.

Children and parents got more good news: On Friday, Krewson said, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded St. Louis $2.5 million to continue to expand the city’s lead abatement program. Lead was commonly used in paint until 1978, so homes built before then are likely to have some lead-based paint. As the homes age and paint flakes off, lead can get into children who – as young children invariably do – touch objects and transfer fingers to mouths.

Lead can cause irreversible brain damage, manifesting itself in a variety of problems including difficulty learning.

St. Louis has battled the problem intensively for years, Krewson said. The work is “very expensive, very important.”

In COVID-19 news, Krewson reported that the numbers of new positive cases and hospitalizations had plateaued.

“That’s good; that’s better than going up, right?” she remarked.

Young people are still making up about half of all new cases. People in their 2os account for about 30 percent, and people in their 30s, about 20 percent. Older adults are taking more precautions.

Krewson noted, “That’s paying off for those folks.”

Staff is home to The NorthSider and The SouthSider weekly community newspapers. The SouthSider publishes 25,000 copies every Tuesday. The NorthSider publishes 25,000 copies every Thursday. They are distributed at over 600 locations across St. Louis.

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