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

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While much else in San Diego has been allowed to gradually reopen amid the pandemic, playgrounds appear to be closed indefinitely. They’re not part of any phased reopening plans at the local or state level.

Speaker 1: 00:00 While much else in San Diego has been allowed to gradually reopen bars, restaurants, gyms, the zoo, even museums, playgrounds are still sitting vacant with caution tape around them. KPBS, investigative reporter, Claire Traeger. Sir, tried to find out what's going on with the regions, swings and slides. We all have that thing. We miss most from our pre pandemic life for four year old James McCann. It's the playground near the small condo. He shares with his parents in university Heights.

Speaker 2: 00:33 We drive right here. Sometimes we walk here,

Speaker 1: 00:38 Ask him why he can't go there anymore. And he answers with the euphemism his parents were using until he caught on. Because the thing I around the thing going around now, he's left playing baseball and dancing in the grass at trolley barn park. Still he's optimistic.

Speaker 2: 00:56 They, they, they say close for a while and then they open it. Uh, when might that be? When the thing stopped,

Speaker 1: 01:05 He might be right, unlike everything else. Playgrounds aren't part of any phased reopening plans at the local or state level. The decision rests with the California department of public health, which has said parks can be open with restrictions. One of them is that playgrounds stay closed. A spokesman declined repeated interview requests, but answered questions over email. He said playgrounds haven't opened because quote, the possible large number of individuals touching the same surface, particularly younger children who are less likely to practice hand hygiene and wear masks, but multiple doctors and infectious disease experts tell KPBS that playgrounds are far safer than indoor activities citing a growing body of evidence. That COVID-19 is much more likely to be passed when breathing and talking, not by touching surfaces. If it's safe to go to a restaurant that's serving beer where you can hang out inside and drink with your friends and linger for several hours, it is certainly safe for your kid to go down and slide.

Speaker 1: 02:10 Rebecca fielding Miller, an epidemiologist at UC San Diego bristled at the idea that bars and restaurants have been able to reopen indoors at limited capacity while playgrounds, which are completely outdoor spaces stay closed. This is a pretty palpable demonstration of who is and is not at the table in these conversations about what reopens. So I think that it kind of speaks volumes about priorities and who is there to advocate that a relatively low risk environment that benefits families and families with young children and would disproportionately go to support poor and marginalized families has been, I mean, almost forgotten about dr. Mark Sawyer and infectious disease specialist at Rady children's hospital says he worries more about kids not getting exercise and not socializing. Then the small chance they pick up the virus from a play structure that sits in the sun all day.

Speaker 3: 03:14 We clearly have spent the last two decades trying to get kids to be physically active. I'm sure that some folks have challenged keeping their kids physically active in the current situation.

Speaker 1: 03:25 Well, the playground rules apply across the state. A few cities appear to not be enforcing them with the same vigor as San Diego. For example, photo center KPBS from Huntington beach and Sacramento show no yellow caution tape or signs saying playgrounds are closed. Meanwhile, in San Diego police don't spend any time writing mass citations, but playground closures are enforced with caution tape, orange fencing and even roadblocks signs padlock to the top of slides and city park staff are under orders to rewrap a playground and caution tape. If it's torn down, says the city spokesman that takes up to an hour and given that the city has 279 playgrounds, that's a lot of time spent re wrapping caution tape, the epidemiologist fielding Miller calls it security theater of closing playgrounds is a way to demonstrate that something is being done. Um, that affects people

Speaker 3: 04:28 Don't have the time or the voice,

Speaker 1: 04:30 Anything about it. Some families KPBS spoke to admit they're beginning to ignore the caution tape. Kids need the park. Jessica Pruitt brought her two kids and nephew to central Avenue, mini park in city Heights. One afternoon, last week, I need to get their energy. Like they need, they need this. I need this for them. Um, so I mean, I tore the tape down last time. We're probably going to have doing it again early on. Pruitt says she was committed to following the rules, but her resolve has weakened. Um, I told him about the tape that we're not supposed to go on it and about the coronavirus. And it's just, if you take him to the park and they see the tape, they're not going to care about the tape. They're just going to want to play. Other parents have taken a different approach saying that while they may not agree with the rule, they don't want to teach their kids, that they can choose what rules to follow and what rules to break dance here. Unfortunately, for James McCann, that parenting group includes his mom, Liz, you know, we're trying very hard to use some of this as like a learning experience to a point about how we're doing this to keep other people safe and we need to do things to stay clean and you know, so yeah, I'm, I'm not trying to raise a little scofflaw Claire Tresor KPBS news. After an inquiry from KPBS state assembly, woman Loraina Gonzalez who represents parts. San Diego

Speaker 4: 05:58 Said she planned to write a letter to the governor's office, asking what the plan would be for reopening place structure.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.