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Coronavirus: Playgrounds allowed to stay open as state quietly reverses ban

To the relief of parents, California quietly reversed the outdoor playground ban Wednesday in its regional stay-home order, which is now in effect for the state’s southern half and many Bay Area counties to control spread of the coronavirus.

The stay-home order announced last Thursday listed outdoor playgrounds as off limits in affected regions. It also bans outdoor dining at restaurants, but encourages other outdoor activity like hiking or going to the beach.

The California Department of Public Health confirmed the update Wednesday.

“Playgrounds may remain open to facilitate physically distanced personal health and wellness through outdoor exercise,” the department said in a statement. Playgrounds located on schools that remain open for in-person instruction, and not accessible by the general public, may remain open and must follow guidance for schools and school-based programs.

Other controversial prohibitions such as outdoor dining at restaurants remain in effect.

The about-face comes as California, like much of the rest of the nation, buckles under a surge of COVID-19 cases that threaten to overwhelm hospitals, with a second straight day of record new infections and fatalities.

The stay-home order divides the state into five regions and takes effect when their hospitals’ intensive care unit capacity falls below 15%. The Southern California and San Joaquin Valley regions fell below that bar over the weekend.

The Bay Area region, which includes Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, still had 24.5% of its intensive care capacity Wednesday. But in recent days, public health officials in five of the region’s largest counties — Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco and Marin — adopted the state restrictions early, arguing that waiting would only make things worse.

A Santa Clara County public health spokesman Wednesday confirmed that outdoor playgrounds will be open in the county in keeping with the revised state order.

The new restrictions on outdoor activities — which public health officials have repeatedly stressed pose a lower risk from the respiratory virus because of air circulation — drew immediate pushback. Critics questioned why shopping malls and stores were allowed to remain open at reduced capacity indoors while playgrounds, outdoor dining areas at restaurants and overnight campgrounds were ordered closed.

On Friday, a dozen lawmakers led by state Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, wrote Gov. Gavin Newsom urging him to consider.

“Playgrounds in community parks provide a critical resource for children and families to access outdoor space, exercise and relax,” wrote the lawmakers, including Assemblyman Marc Berman, D-Menlo Park, Assemblyman Ash Kalra, D-San Jose and Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland.

The lawmakers added that for many poor families living in urban apartment complexes, the neighborhood park is the only place where their kids can go outside to play.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, Secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency, defended the restrictions Tuesday, arguing they were intended to encourage people to stay home and avoid mixing with others outside their households rather than to assess various risks of indoor and outdoor activities.

“We have reached a point where COVID-19 is so widespread in California that just leaving the house is a risky behavior,” Ghaly said Tuesday. “It’s about that fact that any mixing among households presents a risk of disease transmission.”

But by Wednesday morning, the state’s guidance for playgrounds on its covid.ca.gov website shifted. The state public health department did not offer an explanation for the change.

“Every parent knows how important playgrounds are for our youngest Californians,” Gonzalez said Wednesday. “A huge thank you to Governor Newsom for hearing our collective concern and rethinking how we can open play structures for our kids.”

 


Source: Orange County Register

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