In a state largely closed by coronavirus, parks remain open — to an extent

Timothy Chu, left, Michael Hashimoto and Kevin Liu on a basketball court at Hazard Park in L.A.
USC medical school students, from left, Timothy Chu, Michael Hashimoto and Kevin Liu shoot some hoops on a basketball court at Hazard Park in Los Angeles.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

In a state alarmed by the rapid spread of coronavirus, open spaces seem to be about the only things that haven’t closed.

But with more than 1,000 cases of coronavirus infection now confirmed in California, and awareness surrounding hygiene and cleanliness of common-touch surfaces at an all-time high, even local parks can’t escape the drastic efforts local governments are taking to stem the spread of COVID-19.

The Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation has announced that all its outdoor exercise equipment, fitness zones and playgrounds are closed to the public starting Friday.


Through March 31, L.A. County parks will be “outdoor-only facilities” where buildings and indoor spaces are closed to the public and avoiding close contact with others is a must, officials said.

“We have posted that social distancing is required,” said Katie Martel, a public information officer with the department. “We have closed our playgrounds and have posted signs and cautionary tape to block access.”

Similar restrictions can be seen in Long Beach, where all city playgrounds, dogs parks, skate parks and golf courses will be closed as of Friday through at least April 19, according to Jane Grobaty, community information officer for the city’s Parks, Recreation and Marine department. Other spaces such as the city’s beaches or trails at the local El Dorado Nature Center remain open, however.

Park playgrounds and outdoor fitness equipment also are closed until further notice in the city of Los Angeles, according to Ashley Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the Department of Recreation and Parks.

California State Parks, which closed all of its campgrounds on Tuesday, has so far kept trails and beaches open — with the added caution that visitors must maintain a six-foot buffer around themselves.

In a bid to reduce potential crowds, some jurisdictions have canceled or suspended reservations for events typically held in parks, such as barbecues or family reunions. Pasadena is among the cities that have taken that step, according to Brenda Harvey-Williams, director of the city’s Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department.


“We are in the process of posting signage and placing orange temporary fencing and tape around all play and fitness equipment,” she added.

What that city hasn’t done, though, is close parks or limit their hours. Far from being ghost towns, Harvey-Williams said there’s been “an uptick in usage — we liken the level to that of a summer day.”

Other cities have taken a different path. All parks in Malibu, for instance, have been closed since Monday, according to Assistant City Manager Lisa Soghor.

For the parks that do remain open to the public, some cities say they’ve stepped up their sanitizing and stocking efforts.

Pasadena is now cleaning its public restrooms three times a day, up from two, Harvey-Williams said.

In Long Beach, “freestanding park restrooms are being sanitized each morning and afternoon and, as staff are available, one additional time midday,” according to Grobaty.

“Our maintenance staff will continue to do their regular morning cleanings with additional cleanings throughout the day,” Rodriguez said. “All outdoor restrooms and drinking fountains will receive additional cleanings and continue to be maintained by maintenance staff daily, including on Sundays.”

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Though Gov. Gavin Newsom has directed residents statewide to stay home unless necessary, officials have said it’s still OK to go for a walk, run, hike or bike ride — and some parks officials say it’s important for cooped-up Californians to have those outlets.

“We understand these are unprecedented times for our communities,” L.A. County parks Director John Wicker wrote in a public message Thursday. “At times like these, our parks are often looked to as havens for recreation and respite. We know that you rely on our programs as consistent and crucial resources. We hope these extraordinary efforts will help with the county and global effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

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Here and there were signs of something resembling normalcy Friday.

Hikers and joggers in Elysian Park enjoyed one of the few pastimes remaining to them outside their homes. The park, which mostly draws locals from Echo Park, Silver Lake and other nearby areas, seemed no less crowded than on a typical weekday morning. With no need to practice social distancing, dogs sniffed each other and struck up friendships as usual.

In other places, the impact of recent days was more noticeable. Griffith Park’s Observatory Trail, usually bustling with hikers and joggers, was quiet Friday morning. Only an occasional person or couple hoofed along the path — often skirting to the edge of the wide trail to maximize the space between themselves and passing strangers.

Even out in the open, officials say it’s important to be cautious.

“Parks, hiking trails and golf courses are still open as open spaces to walk and enjoy,” Rodriguez said. “We just want to encourage people to continue practicing social distancing.”

Times staff writers Cindy Chang and Joel Rubin contributed to this story.