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Outdoor Playgrounds In California Can Now Open

A playground is unused and closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Mission Bay...

Photo by Alexander Nguyen

Above: A playground is unused and closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Mission Bay Park, July 3, 2020.

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After being blocked from slides and swings for six months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, kids can now use any outdoor playground regardless of what tier their county falls in, according to new state guidelines.

Aired: September 30, 2020 | Transcript

All outdoor playgrounds across California can now reopen as of Tuesday, according to an announcement from the California Department of Public Health.

After being blocked from slides and swings for six months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, kids can now use any outdoor playground regardless of what tier their county falls in.

Listen to this story by Claire Trageser.

But there are a few new rules:

– Everyone age two and up must wear a face mask

– Different households should keep 6 feet apart, and families should come back later if a playground is too crowded to make this social distancing possible

– Families should limit their visits to 30 minutes when others are present

– No eating or drinking

– Wash hands before and after

– Caregivers must supervise children to make sure they follow these rules

The change came after KPBS found that public playgrounds in the state were closed indefinitely and officials had no plans to reopen them. This prompted state Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez to write a letter to the governor asking for guidance on reopening playgrounds, and then draft another letter signed by 23 state representatives.

Reported by Claire Trageser

"I'm very happy about this change and I think the state probably just forgot to open them," Gonzalez said. "Unfortunately, so much of the focus is on things with economic impact that they forget the obvious things."

She said she was glad to see the state act quickly after the KPBS story and her letter, and that the new rules about handwashing and social distancing "seemed obvious."

"It's what any Mom or Dad would do anyway," she said. "I think this is great, hopefully now we can do schools."

The state also has new guidance for cities and other playground operators.

They include:

– increasing the cleaning of frequently touched surfaces

– providing handwashing stations or sanitizer; posting the maximum number of children allowed at the entrance of each playground

–and posting the maximum occupancy of each play structure to allow for "6 foot vertical and horizontal distancing."

After the state changed its rules, a spokeswoman for San Diego County said "it is up to the individual jurisdictions to determine when playgrounds will open." She said the county’s 100 playgrounds will open Wednesday.

Gustavo Portela, a spokesman for San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, said the city will fully open its 289 playgrounds by Saturday.

"Over the next two days, parks and rec staff are conducting site visits at all playgrounds to conduct capacity assessments and prepare for social distancing and queuing markings," he said.

City staff will also making signs for the playgrounds with the new rules.

"Any tape or barriers will be removed by Friday," Portela said. "After parks are open, staff will continue to monitor each location and implement safeguards compliant with public health requirements."

RELATED: San Diego Beaches, Parks And Restaurants Are Open, But Playgrounds Remain Closed

Since the beginning of the pandemic, playgrounds across the city had been wrapped in orange fencing and caution tape. The barriers have been replaced, sometimes daily, when kids or their parents pull them down.

In a statement, Faulconer said, "one of the questions I'm asked most often is why aren't playgrounds open, and I've had to say because for some reason the state still had them on the closed list. It's like this essential part of life for any parent had been forgotten. Outdoor activity and public playgrounds are so important for children, particularly for families who don't have a backyard of their own, so finally reopening them just makes sense and is long overdue."

Playgrounds were not part of any phased reopening plans at the local or state level, even though a growing body of evidence shows that COVID-19 is much more likely to be passed when breathing and talking, not by touching surfaces.

Many parents were furious that playgrounds remained closed while indoor places like bars and restaurants opened.

Four-year-old James McCann, who lives in University Heights and had been mourning the loss of his local Trolley Barn Park playground, was very excited to hear the news.

"What else are you going to do besides the swings?" his mother Elizabeth McCann asked.

"I'm going to play on the slide," he said.

Of course, it's still up to parents to decide whether it's safe for their kids. Luckily for James, Elizabeth McCann is in.

"If it's not too crowded and we'll bring our hand sanitizer, maybe some cleaning supplies to wipe a few things down first," she said.

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San Diego County will stay in the State’s Red Tier for COVID restrictions, County supervisors say, despite exceeding the state’s Covid-19 metrics. Plus, after being blocked from slides and swings for six months due to the pandemic, kids can now use any outdoor playground regardless of what tier their county falls in, according to new state guidelines. Also, San Diego ... Read more →

Aired: September 30, 2020 | Transcript

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Photo of Claire Trageser

Claire Trageser
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs a member of the KPBS investigative team, my job is to hold the powerful in San Diego County accountable. I've done in-depth investigations on political campaigns, police officer misconduct and neighborhood quality of life issues.

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