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Closed City Playgrounds, Which Still Have Visitors Amid Pandemic, Will Receive Fencing

Heidi Sheppard/WYPR

Baltimore Mayor Jack Young closed city playgrounds in order to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic last month, but residents continued to visit them and use park exercise equipment.

On Monday, he ordered new measures to secure park equipment so residents are more inclined to stay away.

“After seeing people use this equipment despite the need to practice social distancing while in public, I asked [Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks] Executive Director Reginald Moore to secure these locations,” the Democrat said in a statement. “Our staff will continue to make every effort to ensure residents can stay fit and active.”

Shrink-wrapped swings in Patterson Park

The new measures will include tightly wrapping snow-fencing both playgrounds and exercise equipment,as well as shrink-wrapping swings to the bars they hang from, Rec and Parks Dept. spokeswoman Whitney Brown said.

“This is in addition to many of the play spaces where we placed signage telling residents that the parks are closed,” Brown said. “We’re sad to do it, but we need to make sure people are safe.”

Credit Emily Sullivan/WYPR
A rimless basketball court at a city-operated park in Old Goucher. Rec and Parks removed basketball rims throughout the city earlier this month to discourage park gatherings.

The temporary measures will be able to be removed quickly once social distancing measures are lifted, Brown said.

Rec and Parks maintains more than 145 playgrounds throughout the city.

The coronavirus is highly contagious and capable of living on surfaces, including playground equipment, for days at a time.

Councilman Eric Costello, a Democrat representing central and downtown Baltimore, spoke at length about the continued use of parks at a council meeting last week.

“The complaints continue to come in of people violating these rules,” Costello said. The virus “is asymptomatic, meaning that you can have the virus and not know it. You can go to a park, touch a piece of equipment, and then when someone else comes and touches that piece of equipment… they can contract the virus. This is extremely real.”

Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.
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