Following outcry from parents and some legislators, California has reversed course on closing playgrounds to contain a surge in coronavirus cases.
According to the updated state guidance, “playgrounds may remain open to facilitate physically distanced personal health and wellness through outdoor exercise” — an about-face from the previously announced rules, which stated they would be closed in regions where critical care services were strained due to COVID-19.
Though several aspects of California’s latest regional stay-at-home order have come under fire since Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled it last week, the closure of playgrounds sparked particular backlash — with parents expressing outrage and confusion about why their children’s play areas would be off-limits while places like malls remain open.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom is facing criticism over closing playgrounds as part of his new stay-at-home order
In a letter to Newsom last week, some California lawmakers also noted that lower-income areas would be hit hardest by the rule because many residents don’t have backyards and other open spaces to take their kids.
“While we must appropriately consider best practices to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, we also must ensure the children across the state are not unfairly deprived of their opportunities for outdoor access and play,” said the letter, which was signed by a dozen legislators. “The broad closure of playgrounds unfairly negatively impacts children and families.”
One of the letter’s signers — Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) — greeted the state’s reversal Wednesday with an emphatic, “Yay!”
“Thank you to all the legislators who joined me in asking the state to review playground closures,” she wrote on Twitter.
It remains to be seen how the state’s turnabout will trickle down to the local level. Generally, counties are allowed to adopt regulations that are more restrictive, but not more lenient, than the state’s.
Los Angeles County, for instance, closed outdoor public playgrounds prior to the state’s order as part of its own set of restrictions meant to slow an unprecedented surge in coronavirus cases.
Though the county has not publicly linked outbreaks to playgrounds, officials previously said they believed the closures were necessary.
For many parents confounded by an array of official dictates, closing playgrounds crossed a line in the sandbox.
Before issuing the regulations, health officials “went back and forth for many days” about how to handle reports from local parks departments about crowding, children playing without masks and the difficulty of sanitizing playground equipment, according to L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.
“I know the playgrounds have been, really for many, sort of not well understood, and [their closure] creates a lot of hardship again for families,” she said last week.