Mar 27, 2020 - Health

Parks pose major problem for cities battling coronavirus

A couple riding a bike and scooter wearing protective masks in Central Park. Photo: Cindy Ord/Getty Images

Closed businesses, home offices and schools amid the coronavirus pandemic has translated into an influx of outdoor recreation in parks, despite states' advice for people to stay home.

Why it matters: So many people are visiting city parks to escape the stuck-at-home monotony that the public spaces have become crowded. Some people are exercising in groups or playing contact sports, undermining social distancing recommendations.

Driving the news: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo launched a pilot program to open up a New York City street in each borough for residents to walk at a safe distance from each other.

The big picture: The decision comes as a potential solution for the state to keep dense clusters of people at bay when the warmer weather entices outdoor exercise or socializing, a huge problem especially with young people, Cuomo said.

"We have many fewer vehicles in New York City — open streets, people want to walk. They want to go out and get some air. They want a less dense area, so [we will] pilot closing streets to cars, opening streets to pedestrians."
— Cuomo

Details: Starting on Friday through Monday, March 30, vehicles won't be able to drive on specified streets from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Cuomo is also asking people to voluntarily give up contact sports in parks such as basketball.

Yes, but: Some cities and states have had to close off areas or parks because the risk of illness spreading in mass crowds was believed to be too high.

  • In Washington state, Gov. Jay Inslee closed all parks and wildlife areas, the Seattle Times reports.
  • Some Florida beaches in Clearwater and Miami have closed to keep spring breakers away.
  • In Washington D.C., police blocked off roads to the Tidal Basin, where the famous cherry blossom trees attract massive crowds every year, the Washington Post reports.

Cities are following public health department guidance to manage public spaces, but people need the outdoors for mental and physical health, especially during stressful times, said Catherine Nagel, executive director of City Parks Alliance, a nonprofit.

  • In Memphis, she said, park volunteers are going online to talk about practicing safe distancing at parks. New York City is setting up live web cameras so people can see flowering trees from their computers. Other cities are telling park patrons to exercise on their own.
  • "For people cooped up in very dense areas, it's important to find ways to allow people to be outside, even if they're able to walk along the streets," Nagel said. "Parks and nature play a great role in our resiliency."

Go deeper

17 hours ago - Health

Protests against police brutality threaten coronavirus response

Protesters in Philadelphia on June 1. Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

Protests against police brutality have prompted the closure of coronavirus test sites across the country, including in Pennsylvania, Florida, California and Illinois, Politico reports.

Why it matters: This adds to concerns that the protests themselves create an environment in which the virus can easily spread, particularly if and when protesters aren't wearing masks or social distancing.

Updates: George Floyd protests continue past curfews

Police officers wearing riot gear push back demonstrators outside of the White House on Monday. Photo: Jose Luis Magana/AFP via Getty Images

Protests over the death of George Floyd and other police-related killings of black people continued Tuesday across the U.S. for the eighth consecutive day — prompting a federal response from the National Guard, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection.

The latest: Protesters were still out en masse even as curfews set in Washington, D.C., and New York City, where Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) announced late Tuesday that she's headed for Manhattan Bridge following reports of police kettling in protesters. "This is dangerous," she tweeted.

Primary elections test impact of protests, coronavirus on voting

Election official at a polling place at McKinley Technology High School in Washington, D.C. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

In the midst of a global pandemic and national protests over the death of George Floyd, eight states and the District of Columbia held primary elections on Tuesday.

Why it matters: Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, needs to win 425 of the 479 delegates up for grabs in order to officially clinch the nomination. There are a number of key down-ballot races throughout the country as well, including a primary in Iowa that could determine the fate of Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa).