The case for reopening America’s parks (Vox)

There’s little reason to believe passing outdoor encounters pose a major risk of spreading the coronavirus.

In the week or so after my 5-year-old’s Washington, DC, school closed, my wife or I used to take him sometimes to the playground across the street so he could ride his scooter to burn some energy. He was prohibited from using the climbing equipment, but with appropriate disinfecting, I would let him swing on the swings. Anytime we went, we would see other kids scooting, biking, running, or swinging.

We’d also see adults using the perimeter of the soccer field as a running track, while on the interior some parents kicked or tossed a ball around with a child. The benches were mostly used by grown-ups as ersatz gym benches for a variety of workouts.

We could also from time to time see people behaving irresponsibly at the park — either parents allowing small children to play on the climbing structure, which was riskier than I was willing to do, or else younger kids or teens playing basketball, which involves too much physical contact to follow social distancing guidelines. In response to this kind of activity, the mayor ordered the parks and playgrounds run by the city government to close and worked with the federal government to close some but not all of the numerous federally managed parks in DC.

As an emergency measure, these kinds of broad closures may be the best the US could do. But as America settles in for a long haul of social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic, it doesn’t seem to be well-grounded in the evidence. Transmission of the virus from runners or people walking around outside looks to be unlikely and possibly even less likely in the warmer days to come.

The risk that people recreating outdoors will behave irresponsibly is a problem, but the country doesn’t have systems in place to prevent irresponsible indoor behavior, so it’s not clear why closing outdoor spaces would exacerbate the situation. The US also isn’t trying to prevent people from going outside at all, so closing parks may make other spaces like sidewalks or the random parking lot where my kid now does his scootering more crowded…

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