State health officials reversed course Wednesday and allowed outdoor playgrounds to reopen, despite initially being closed under COVID-19 restrictions, and Los Angeles County’s quickly followed suit, lifting its local closure order.
Los Angeles County ordered the closure of indoor and outdoor playgrounds in late November, responding to a local COVID-19 surge that saw the county surpass a five-day average of 4,500 new daily coronavirus cases.
The state’s regional stay-at-home lockdown order, which took effect at midnight Monday morning across all of Southern California, also ordered them closed. But in the face of pressure from parents and legislators, the state reversed course Wednesday.
According to the state’s website, “playgrounds may remain open to facilitate physically distanced personal health and wellness through outdoor exercise. Playgrounds located on schools that remain open for in-person instruction, and not accessible by the general public, may remain open and must follow guidance for schools and school-based programs.”
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, led a group of a dozen legislators who sent a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom last week urging him to remove playgrounds from the stay at home order. They claimed opening playgrounds “is necessary for the mental and physical health of children to have opportunities to expend their physical energy and play.” They also noted that in some low-income neighborhoods, “families may have little to no outdoor space of their own available.”
With the state relenting, Los Angeles County announced Wednesday afternoon that it would amend its local order and also reopen outdoor playgrounds. Counties are permitted to enact stricter regulations than the state, so Los Angeles could have potentially kept the playgrounds closed.
But while agreeing to allow playgrounds to open, county Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer urged parents to be cautious.
“It’s not like the risk that we’ve been talking about has gone away at playgrounds,” she said. “… We’re going to ask that you be super careful.”
She said anyone using a public outdoor playground must wear a face covering and maintain physical distance from others. She also said gatherings with people from other households are still banned under the health order, and that includes playgrounds.
“We would strongly recommend you have a lot of hand sanitizer,” she said, noting that playground equipment won’t be cleaned and sanitized after each child uses it.