Arlington, VA

Arlington officials are reminding residents that it’s okay to go outside during the pandemic — as long as they maintain social distancing and stay out of closed facilities.

The county closed parks, playgrounds, athletic courts, tracks, dog parks and other outdoor places where people congregate late last month. Despite that, there have been repeated examples of people still using such facilities, necessitating more stringent measures and — in some cases — a response from Arlington County Police.

With the weather turning warmer, the Arlington Dept. of Parks and Recreation yesterday posted a reminder to Twitter about the closures and the need to maintain a 6-foot distance from others, including on increasingly crowded local trails. It has also been posting signs about social distancing around local parks.

“It’s hard, but social distancing saves lives,” Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey said in a video accompanying the parks department’s social media post. “We must do all we can to flatten this curve.”

Not everyone thinks that limiting people’s outdoor recreation options is a good thing, though. While sports that require contact with a shared object, like a ball, are riskier, there is less evidence that being in moderately populated parks is dangerous.

Some believe, in fact, that measures encouraging people to stay inside rather than enjoying the outdoors is harmful. Among them is writer and academic Zeynep Tufekci, who was among the first to prominently question official health guidance against wearing masks (which is now being encouraged) earlier in the outbreak.

Arlington County is trying to strike a balance between the two, closing parks but also encouraging outdoor, individual exercise.

The Dept. of Parks and Recreation’s guidance is below, after the jump.

Like most places, Arlington’s parks are important to the community. That’s where we meet friends or make friends, play sports, get fit and find nature. Closing Arlington parks, fields, playgrounds, restrooms, athletic courts and tracks was a very difficult decision to make. But these are unprecedented times. In order to stop the spread of COVID-19, it is important that everyone take personal responsibility and practice social distancing.

Arlington County is committed to the health and safety of our community and our employees. A few weeks ago, our public health officials noted evidence of community transmission of the COVID-19 coronavirus in parts of Northern Virginia. Community transmission, or “community spread,” is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a “spread of an illness for which the source of infection is unknown.

Governor Northam’s Stay at Home Order asks everyone to practice social distancing and bans social gatherings in groups of 10 or more people. And, yet, we still continue to see large number of people congregating in our parks, our playgrounds and on our fields.

We have locked closed parks and fields, where to help limit the number of people gathering for play and sport activities. We have also placed caution tape around amenities, locked restrooms and have had portable restrooms taken away. We’ve pulled up swings, tied up basketball hoops, lowered tennis nets and where possible rendered soccer goals unusable.

We understand how difficult these times are for our community. In a matter of weeks, the COVID-19 virus has turned our world upside down. It has impacted residents, families, and businesses across our County, the region, and indeed the globe. The best chance for us to manage this highly contagious virus is for our community to stay home.

Under the Governor Northam’s Stay at Home Order, you can go out for essential activities: work, groceries, medicine and health care. Like us, he acknowledges the importance of parks. The order allows individuals to exercise outside, so our trails are open for use. Nothing is better than a walk, run or bike ride to clear your head and strengthen your heart during this difficult time. But when you are exercising you must comply with social distancing guidelines and stay six feet apart from people not in your household.

To be clear, Arlington’s parks, fields, playgrounds, restrooms, tracks, dog parks and athletic courts are closed. It is unlawful to break into a closed or locked facility.

All public and private social gatherings of 10 or more people are prohibited. That means your pickup basketball game at Virginia Highlands, a BBQ at Alcova Heights or even a play group at Parkhurst is not allowed. Arlington County Police, Park Rangers, Park Rovers will be monitoring parks, trails, playgrounds and fields to ensure compliance.

This is one of the most difficult times many of us have experienced. Arlington acknowledges that this is hard. But social distancing saves lives. And we must all do our part.

Keep updated on the status of COVID-19 in Arlington at www.arlingtonva.us/coronavirus. Together we can stop the spread. Be safe. Be well. And, please stay home.

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