With parts of the state already entering the second round of stay-at-home orders, health officials are encouraging people to get outside — but also to stay in their neighborhoods.
“We're encouraging people not to go from neighborhood to neighborhood,” said Mario Lara, the city of Sacramento’s director of youth, parks and community enrichment. “Access the outdoor spaces within your own neighborhood, that's really what you should be doing.”
There are 202 parks in the city of Sacramento, and most people live within half a mile of a park, Lara said.
But when thinking about visiting a park, experts say to check online for local restrictions, because with so many different governments — city, county, state and federal — managing public land rules, closures will vary. (A list of websites of open spaces can be found here).
The latest order by Gov. Gavin Newsom says people can go outside and bike, hike, boat and do other outdoor activities as long as they abide by COVID-19 guidelines — social distance, wearing masks and only hanging out with people from your own household.
Newsom said he hopes all of these actions will slow the spread of the pandemic.
"The bottom line is, if we don’t act now, our hospital system will be overwhelmed," Newsom said Friday. "If we don’t act now, we’ll continue to see a death rate climb, more lives lost."
California’s top health official Dr. Mark Ghaly said the message behind the order “is not about how we mix safely, it's about how we reduce our mixing altogether."
Most parks will remain open, but playgrounds and barbecue pits at many will be cordoned off once a county falls under stay-at-home orders. When that threshold is triggered, California State Parks will close campsites, but day-use areas will remain open — including beaches and trails.
The U.S. Forest Service already announced it’s closing campgrounds at eight National Forests in Southern California and San Joaquin Valley areas — both of which went under stay-at-home orders over the weekend — starting Tuesday until Jan. 6.
“Campgrounds, like other overnight accommodations … entice the public to travel distances far enough from home to necessitate overnight accommodation," said Randy Moore, Regional Forester of the USDA Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Region. "Taking those things out of the equation is a prudent measure at this time.”
Other officials don’t want people to skirt the bounds of the order and to travel out of their neighborhood for recreation.
“We welcome you to recreate in the outdoors provided that you stay local, plan ahead to find out what is open, wear a face covering, practice physical distancing and avoid gatherings with people outside the immediate household,” California State Parks Director Armando Quintero wrote in an email.
Quintero says that if you do venture outdoors, expect to find restrooms closed at some parks. And there are other restrictions: Drivers are asked to not pull up onto a beach next to people; off-road vehicles are not supposed to drive next to other riders; and people must stay 10 feet away from each other when unloading or loading.
Sacramento city and county officials said they will follow the state’s guidelines once forced into stay-at-home orders and won’t enforce the rules, but instead educate people when rules aren’t followed.
“If and when we do go into the regional stay-at-home order, parks is going to comply with the state's order,” county parks spokesperson Ken Casparis said. “We will be closing the playgrounds, we're going to be closing the overnight camping.”
The county and city don’t plan to fully close parks, only the enclosed skate park near midtown Sacramento remains closed.
Erin Morecai, who studies the ecology of infectious disease at Stanford University, says playgrounds should stay open with some guidelines.
“Kids are less good at social distancing, and often less good at wearing masks than adults are,” she said. “It would be nice if playgrounds that are outdoors could stay open as well with some of the limited capacity restrictions.”
Unlike stay-at-home restrictions in March, which focused on keeping people within their county, this one is about keeping people closer to home, according to Rachel Norton, the executive director of the California State Parks Foundation.
That means fewer socially distanced walks with your friends and less traveling outside of your zip code.
“They're really trying to keep us close to home and with the people who are in our small little household bubbles, because the surge is so dangerous,” Norton said.
But not all communities have the same access to outdoor spaces, she said, and the pandemic has highlighted those inequities.
People “need those green spaces,” she said. “They're both important for our physical and mental health, they're also important for environmental health.”
Norton says there are alternatives to going to a park that can be just as fun, like mapping the various trees in your neighborhood or going bird watching.
She says the stay-at-home order is an invitation to get to know your immediate community better.
“We recognize that not everybody has walking, or bike access to a local park,” she said. With that in mind, she says people should do as their slogan says, “bring the outdoors home.”
For a weekly email and list of ideas for neighborhood outdoor activities visit the California State Parks Foundation website.
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