High-powered players question California's playground ban during virus shutdown

Park leaders, a respected USCF epidemiologist and some California lawmakers are questioning the wisdom of shutting down playgrounds to children and their indoor-weary parents during the latest rounds of coronavirus crackdowns.

On Twitter, Phil Ginsberg, general manager of the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department, wondered publicly why retail stores can remain open with 20% capacity, while zero playgrounds can remain open.

This is "not an equation [that] prioritizes our children," he wrote. 

He stressed that in San Francisco, parks are held to strict capacity limits and there are handwashing stations and social distance markers throughout the parks. 

"Can’t be perfectly enforced but most families doing the right thing," he tweeted. "I may be an inattentive parent but don’t recall a time when my kids licked a slide."

The playground shutdown isn't backed by science either, said Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease doctor and researcher with UCSF.

Over the weekend, she tweeted concern about randomly saying no to healthy activities because we know so much more about the virus than we did in March. Mainly, she tweeted, the virus is not spread from surfaces. 

"We didn’t know if it was spread from asymptomatic individuals (it is); " Gandhi tweeted. "We essentially treated the infection as if it was radioactive. At this point, we have learned a lot about how to mitigate spread, including masks, distancing, ventilation and hand hygiene and foster spread. This is one of my biggest concerns. Therefore, some counties (e.g. San Mateo) did not join yesterday’s 5-county Bay Area stay-at-home order. Perhaps playgrounds, zoos, outdoor activities can be re-instituted. We are lucky with Bay Area weather."

It remains to be seen if the order will hold through Jan. 4.

California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez and other 11 legislators wrote a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom urging him to reconsider the full closure of playground structures.

The local playground, they wrote, may be the only opportunity for some families to get outdoors, especially if they are lower income and don't have safe neighborhoods or big enough yards to run around in.