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Gov. Newsom faces backlash for closing playgrounds as part of stay-at-home order

A child plays in a closed playground in Redondo Beach.
Maala Sampath, 2, tries to climb into a swing before her nanny reminds her that the playground is closed at Glen Anderson Park in Redondo Beach on Tuesday.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Some California lawmakers are calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom to reconsider closing public outdoor playgrounds under a new stay-at-home order that is set to go into effect once regions of the state hit critical care shortages due to COVID-19.

Though much of the discourse surrounding the newly announced coronavirus-related restrictions has focused on businesses — with many questioning the science behind or justification for the planned closures — parents have also expressed outrage and confusion about why playgrounds would be off-limits while places like malls remain open.

For many parents confounded by an array of official dictates, closing playgrounds crossed a line in the sandbox.

In a letter sent to Newsom Friday, legislators also noted that lower-income areas would be hit hardest by the rule because many residents don’t have backyards and other open spaces to take their kids.

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“While we must appropriately consider best practices to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, we also must ensure the children across the state are not unfairly deprived of their opportunities for outdoor access and play,” states the letter, which is signed by a dozen legislators. “The broad closure of playgrounds unfairly negatively impacts children and families.”

Los Angeles County drew similar criticism when it closed outdoor public playgrounds as part of its own stay-at-home order that went into effect Monday.

The county has not publicly linked coronavirus outbreaks to playgrounds, but officials said they believe the closures were necessary to slow the spread. Playgrounds were closed earlier in the pandemic but were allowed to reopen in September to the cheers of parents.

The new order requires Californians to stay home and minimize their interactions with other households as much as possible.

Before issuing the latest regulations, health officials “went back and forth for many days” about how to handle reports from local parks departments about crowding, children playing without masks and the difficulty of sanitizing playground equipment, according to county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.

“I know the playgrounds have been, really for many, sort of not well understood, and [their closure] creates a lot of hardship again for families,” she said this week.

The playground prohibition is just one aspect of the state’s new and far-reaching restrictions that would be implemented when a specified region’s intensive care unit capacity falls below 15%. The state-defined regions are Southern California, the San Joaquin Valley, the Bay Area, the Greater Sacramento area and rural Northern California.

If ICU bed capacity stays below 15%, a regional stay-at-home order would kick in, shutting outdoor restaurant dining, hair salons, nail salons, playgrounds, cardrooms, museums, zoos, aquariums and wineries and restricting retail capacity to 20%.

“The bottom line is, if we don’t act now, our hospital system will be overwhelmed,” Newsom said Thursday. “If we don’t act now, we’ll continue to see our death rate climb, more lives lost.”

Times staff writer Hailey Branson-Potts contributed to this report.


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