Right now, parks can seem like the only places to go outside safely. With COVID-19 leading health officials to discourage gatherings of more than 10 people, a park is a place to finally let your kids be active while allowing yourself the peace of mind to leave your apartment or house for a little bit. With the coming of Spring, parks are growing in popularity for people to enjoy both good scenery and good weather as a break for their mental health.
But people are doing a terrible job social distancing in big parks right now.
In the times I’ve been outdoors to run, I’ve seen the following: 20 children playing on a playground, small groups of people stopping in the park and talking, many people coming in and out of porty-potties and public bathrooms, people taking up an entire path and not allow runners or bikers behind them to pass with adequate six feet, and many, many more egregious practices that make for terrible park etiquette in the age of the Coronavirus.
Italy has just closed all its parks for its Coronavirus lockdown three days ago, banning all jogging and biking rides. People in Italy now have to exercise in their own homes, and I will not be surprised if the United States engages in the same aggressive restrictions if people do not follow proper park etiquette during COVID-19. Right now, parks are a hotbed for the transmission of COVID-19 because people are not following social distancing guidelines.
“If you are engaged in this activity, you are breaking the law, and you endangering the lives of your family, friends, and fellow citizens,” said Maryland Governor Larry Hogan just a few moments ago. Howard County Parks and Recreation released a statement that lamented social distancing guidelines not being followed in its parks, saying that “at one point, more than 250 people were observed on and around a playground [and] approximately 50 people on a basketball court.” It released this statement to announce that park gates would be closed to drivers and motorists.
While parks are still open, however, people will still use them in high quantities. For a lot of Americans, being in a park is the only fun activity they have right now that allows them to stay active and enjoy fresh air. Being in the outdoors is the only way a lot of people are keeping sane. But social distancing is essential to save lives and contain the spread of the disease.
Here are some things we can all do better in parks to social distance and maintain proper etiquette in the new age of the Coronavirus:
Don’t gather in groups. Stay off playgrounds, courts, dog parks with a lot of people, and avoid public restrooms. Essentially, stay off any facility that induces a lot of physical contact.
Bring your own water. Don’t use public water fountains.
Do not take up the whole trail as a group. Allow people an adequate six feet to pass you and when you pass people by.
Carefully watch and monitor your kids. Don’t let them go on swings and slides. Keep them off of courts. Make sure they’re also leaving people adequate room to pass.
Monitor your dogs as well. Keep them on a short leash, especially if that leash takes up the whole trail. Limit the amount of contact your dog spends with other dogs because that means more people will be forced to gather together.
If you’re just arriving to a parking lot that is crowded, stay away or try to find another parking lot. If it’s bad in the entire park, try to find another park, or go home.
Don’t go to the park if you feel sick.
Yes, people should be able to enjoy the outdoors and enjoy jogging and walking to take care of their mental health. But I’m afraid we might get this luxury and privilege taken away soon.
“But we won’t get that opportunity if we keep acting selfishly,” writes Robert Carroll of the New York Daily News “We are all in this together, and that means if you can’t do your activity solo, you can’t do it. If we don’t get our act together for the collective good, a much harsher lot is in store for us.”
Our luxury of the outdoors and scenery of our parks might be taken away, and some would argue should be taken away if people continue to use them irresponsibly. Personally, I would hate to see the only source of enjoyment and solace closed to people as officials continue to push us indoors, but keeping parks open while parkgoers continually flout social distancing guidelines will only exacerbate a public health emergency.
“We encourage local jurisdictions to keep parks, trails and open spaces accessible as long as it is safe to do so,” said the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA).
But from the behavior of so many parkgoers flouting social distancing guidelines makes parks, trails, and open spaces unsafe to use. To keep people safe and save lives, follow proper park etiquette when you’re in a park. It’s more essential now than ever.
Previously published on Medium.com.
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