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Playgrounds To Remain Open In San Diego County

A family plays in a public playground in Poway, Oct. 2, 2020.

Photo by Brooke Ruth

Above: A family plays in a public playground in Poway, Oct. 2, 2020.

San Diego County playgrounds can now remain open during the new, more restrictive stay-at-home order, the state announced Wednesday.

Nickolas Estrada, who is a single father, wasted no time in taking his three-year-old daughter, Amora, to the playground at Trolley Barn Park in University Heights. He said the pandemic has been difficult on his family, and that playgrounds have been a lifeline.

Listen to this story by Andrew Bowen.

"Just trying to take it day by day and wake up and find new things to explore to keep her engaged, and myself," Estrada said.

Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, led a group of a dozen legislators who sent a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom last week urging him to remove playgrounds from the list of businesses and entities that must close. They claimed opening playgrounds "is necessary for the mental and physical health of children to have opportunities to expend their physical energy and play."

Gonzalez told KPBS for parents with private yards, playgrounds may not seem that important.

"But in communities like mine where really you have so many people in apartments, where you have so many people without big yards, or any yard, the play structure may be the only opportunity to get these young kids outside," Gonzalez said.

RELATED: San Diego Pushing To Keep Playgrounds Open As Stay-Home Order Details Clarified

The recent statewide surge in COVID-19 infections prompted Newsom on Dec. 3 to issue a new stay-at-home order that would take effect when a region's intensive care unit availability fell below 15%. That happened in the Southern California region, which includes San Diego, Imperial, Orange, Los Angeles and Riverside Counties, last week.

The new restrictions took effect Sunday and also include a ban on outdoor dining at restaurants and stricter capacity limits at retail outlets. Outdoor recreation spaces such as parks and beaches remain open but playground use was restricted.

San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond introduced a measure at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting to stop enforcement against the playground closure.

“Our children need to be outside. They can't all go to a ski resort, which the governor has allowed to stay open,” he told KPBS in an interview.

However the board voted against Desmond’s measure 3-2.

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, who opposed Desmond's motion, said the more collaborative approach of lobbying state officials rather than defying them, proved effective.

RELATED: Coronavirus FAQs: Are Playgrounds Too Risky? Do I Need A Mask For Outdoor Exercise?

"My conversations with California Governor Gavin Newsom and Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly worked, and I appreciate their partnership on this adjustment," county Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said in a statement. "Thank you to everyone who worked cooperatively with the state, to bring about this adjustment, our collective efforts made a difference."

Following the announcement Wednesday morning, Desmond tweeted: “Our pressure has worked! Playgrounds are now open in San Diego County!”

Playground closures have been a contentious issue since the pandemic began. Parents and children were blocked from using them for six months and were only allowed to start using them again at the of end September after reporting by KPBS.

Assemblymember Gonzalez wrote a separate letter to Gov. Newsom in mid-September asking that playgrounds be reopened. That letter was co-signed by 23 state lawmakers.

Now, according to the state's website: "Playgrounds may remain open to facilitate physically distanced personal health and wellness through outdoor exercise. 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."

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