The coronavirus pandemic, in its relentless drive to disrupt people’s lives, has found a new target – Newport’s dozen or so playgrounds.
On Tuesday, city crews began stringing yellow “caution” tape around jungle gyms, merry-go-rounds and other recreational structures, and they also posted signs announcing that playgrounds are now off limits due to the ongoing drive to curtail the spread of potentially deadly COVID-19.
“PLAYGROUND CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE,” the signs said – just in case the yards of plastic tape wound around and around swing sets and other equipment weren’t enough to get the message across that the pandemic has found a new way to play the role of spoiler.
The city announced the ban as it continues to enforce social-distancing protocols, including rules limiting the size of groups and requiring people to stay a safe distance from one another, major steps to avoid person-to-person transmission of the highly contagious virus.
“It’s meant to discourage people from congregating in groups of 10 or more,” said Tom Shevlin, the city’s communications officer, and to keep at least 6-feet apart. Further, it’s possible that when the virus is attached to metal and other materials, it may remain active for hours and even days.
“A recent study found that the COVID-19 coronavirus can survive up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard, and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel,” according to the online coronavirus resource center of the Harvard Medical School.
Locking down playgrounds does not include shutting off access to the parks in which many of the playgrounds are located, Shevlin noted. The parks remain open, as do the city’s outdoor tennis courts, since players normally stay far from each other and aren’t likely to make contact.
The city’s ban on use of recreational equipment doesn’t just affect children. The recently opened “AARP FITLOT Fitness Park” for adults next to the Edward King House Senior Center in Aquidneck Park also found itself literally tied up in red-colored tape as well as the yellow variety.
Blocking use of playground equipment is a temporary setback in the city’s move to emphasize fitness as it upgrades facilities, such as those installed at Morton Park in the city’s Fifth Ward neighborhood last year and this year, encouraging climbing and other strength-building exercise.
Shevlin said city officials still hope that residents will get as much exercise as possible, within the guidelines set out by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and followed by state and city officials.
“It’s important for everyone to use common sense and keep 6-feet apart,” he said. “If you’re going for a walk, don’t go with 10 people.”
The playgrounds have been a popular way for parents to allow their children to let off steam after coronavirus regulations closed schools, especially because the mild winter and early spring have encouraged outdoor play.
But a tour of several playgrounds – even as the warm sun tried to poke through the clouds following a heavy rain the previous evening – found that the new restrictions were being taken seriously. Swings at Morton Park were motionless; only seagulls showed up at King Park overlooking Newport Harbor; and Aquidneck Park’s facilities for both young and old remained idle.