Kindergartener Naeema Rutherford goes down a slide at the recently-renovated Merced Heights Playground in The City. <ins>(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)</ins>

Kindergartener Naeema Rutherford goes down a slide at the recently-renovated Merced Heights Playground in The City. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Playgrounds to reopen in San Francisco during COVID-19 shutdown

State health officials change guidance to allow outdoor play

Playgrounds will reopen in San Francisco Thursday after state officials changed their guidance on regional COVID-19 shutdowns.

The closure of playgrounds, announced last week, raised concerns among city officials, some California legislators and parents for the impacts it would have on the physical and mental needs of children.

The state updated the regional stay-at-home order Wednesday morning to allow playgrounds to remain open. “Playgrounds may remain open to facilitate physically distanced personal health and wellness through outdoor exercise,” the state guidance now reads.

Recreation and Park Department General Manager Phil Ginsburg celebrated the decision.

“Playgrounds are not luxuries,” Ginsburg said in a statement. “They are essential spaces, particularly for kids in dense, urban neighborhoods. A large body of research has shown playgrounds boost mental and physical health, sharpen problem solving and coping skills, and even ease the effects of trauma.”

Mayor London Breed tweeted the news Wednesday morning and announced that The City’s playgrounds would reopen Thursday.

“I’m glad to hear that the State has updated their Stay at Home order to allow outdoor playgrounds to open,” she said. “Outdoor activity is important for all of our physical and mental health, especially children. We’re now updating our guidelines and playgrounds in SF will open by tomorrow.”

There are several ground rules for visiting playgrounds to lower the risk of people contracting the virus. San Francisco and the rest of the state are experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began and health officials are warning hospitals could run out of beds within weeks, which is why the state announced a regional stay-at-home order last week.

Only people in the same household may make a trip to the playground and everyone over the age of 2 must wear a mask at all times. Playdates are prohibited.

Use of the playground should be limited to 30 minutes. Visitors should remain six feet apart from all people not of their own households. There is no eating or drinking allowed. And hands should be cleaned after playing.

“When you take your kid to the playground make sure you know the rules. Educate yourself about what you need to do,” Breed said at an afternoon press conference. “Our playgrounds are not an excuse for you to get together with a bunch of other families. This is about your kids and their physical and mental health. We need to continue to do everything we can to help stop the spread of this virus.”

Among those who had voiced concerns about the impacts of closed playgrounds was Supervisor Ahsha Safai, who brought up the issue during Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors hearing and sent a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom asking him to reconsider it.

Safai, who represents a district with one of the largest children populations, wrote in the letter that it was “critical” to balance the concerns of the surge with the physical and mental needs of children.

“The unfortunate reality is most children reside in play deserts — highly dense areas in California with little to no access to outdoor space for physical activity,” Safai wrote.

Supervisor Matt Haney, who has been vocal about the need for play space in the urban neighborhoods he represents, also welcomed the reversal.

“It is so important for kids and families to have a safe healthy place to be outdoors,” he said on Twitter. “In neighborhoods like the Tenderloin and SOMA, playgrounds are some of the only options. It is critical for their social, mental, emotional and physical well-being.”

Newsom’s regional stay-at-home order, announced last week, goes into effect in regions where the intensive care unit capacity drops below 15 percent in the area hospitals. While the Bay Area region has not hit the threshold, San Francisco and four other counties decided to voluntarily impose the order last Sunday at 10 p.m.

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