Outdoor Playgrounds in California Can Now Open

California is allowing outdoor playgrounds to reopen on Sept. 29, 2020. (Lauren Hanussak/KQED)

All outdoor playgrounds across California can now reopen as of Tuesday, according to an announcement from the California Department of Public Health.

After being blocked from slides and swings for six months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, kids can now use any outdoor playground regardless of what tier their county falls in.

But there are a few new rules:

  • Everyone age two and up must wear a face mask.
  • Different households should keep 6 feet apart, and families should come back later if a playground is too crowded to make social distancing possible.
  • Families should limit their visits to 30 minutes when others are present.
  • No eating or drinking.
  • Wash hands before and after.
  • Caregivers must supervise children to make sure they follow these rules.

The change came after KPBS found that public playgrounds in the state were closed indefinitely and officials had no plans to reopen them. This prompted state Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez to write a letter to the governor asking for guidance on reopening playgrounds, and then draft another letter signed by 23 state representatives.

"I'm very happy about this change and I think the state probably just forgot to open them," Gonzalez said. "Unfortunately, so much of the focus is on things with economic impact that they forget the obvious things."

She said she was glad to see the state act quickly after the KPBS story and her letter, and that the new rules about handwashing and social distancing "seemed obvious."

"It's what any Mom or Dad would do anyway," she said. "I think this is great, hopefully now we can do schools."

The state also has new guidance for cities and other playground operators. They include:

  • increasing the cleaning of frequently touched surfaces;
  • providing handwashing stations or sanitizer; posting the maximum number of children allowed at the entrance of each playground;
  • and posting the maximum occupancy of each play structure to allow for "6 foot vertical and horizontal distancing."

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On Monday night, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer posted on Twitter that he directed "staff to prepare playgrounds for a safe reopening based on new guidance just issued by the state in response to our bipartisan calls for common sense."

Since the beginning of the pandemic, playgrounds across the city have been wrapped in orange fencing and caution tape. The barriers have been replaced, sometimes daily, when kids or their parents pull them down.

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Playgrounds were not part of any phased reopening plans at the local or state level, even though a growing body of evidence shows that COVID-19 is much more likely to be passed when breathing and talking, not by touching surfaces.

Many parents were furious that playgrounds remained closed while indoor places like bars and restaurants opened.

Four-year-old James McCann, who lives in San Diego's University Heights and had been mourning the loss of his local Trolley Barn Park playground, was very excited to hear the news.

"What else are you going to do besides the swings?" his mother Elizabeth McCann asked.

"I'm going to play on the slide," he said.

Of course, it's still up to parents to decide whether it's safe for their kids. Luckily for James, Elizabeth McCann is in.

"If it's not too crowded and we'll bring our hand sanitizer, maybe some cleaning supplies to wipe a few things down first," she said.