Burlington’s parks crack down on social distancing measures during COVID-19 pandemic

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A group of young men play soccer in Roosevelt Park in Burlington’s Old North End on Wednesday, April 1, 2020, during the new coronavirus outbreak. Burlington Free Press

Neighbors of several Burlington parks say large gatherings and pick-up sports games on recent sunny days have them concerned as the new coronavirus, or COVID-19, continues to spread throughout Vermont.

City and state officials have asked residents to stay home, and if they want to go outside to exercise, to stay at least 6 feet from people who aren’t members of their household — also known as “social distancing.” These measures are intended to slow the spread of the virus.

In the past few days, Pomeroy and Roosevelt parks had seen games of soccer, basketball, and other group gatherings that went against the spirit of the “social distancing” advice. Cindi Wight, director of Burlington Parks, Recreation and Waterfront, said these activities are being carried out by a small number of people.

Because of the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Department is implementing measures to help enforce social distancing. This will include having “park ambassadors” stationed at parks around the city during the day to provide information and ask people to keep a safe distance. 

“This isn’t a punishment,” Wight said Thursday during Mayor Miro Weinberger’s daily update on COVID-19. “We’re doing this for the larger good.”

Ignorance of the rules, or disregard? 

Parks in Burlington’s Old North End were fairly quiet Thursday on a chilly and rainy day. Oliver Alimasi, 15, of Burlington was in Roosevelt Park with his friend, and they basically had the park to themselves. Both had brought soccer balls, and were juggling, dribbling and shooting the balls against a shed in the park. 

Both play soccer with the Nordic Soccer Club, and Alimasi said he comes to Roosevelt Park most days to practice since the soccer club isn’t holding practices.

Alimasi said he knows that people are supposed to stay 6 feet from each other. He said that a city official approached him once in the last few weeks to remind him of proper social distancing practices. 

“We try, sometimes,” Alimasi said. But, he added, it’s difficult.

Makayla Perry, 14, lives in a house that borders Roosevelt Park and said the two boys are part of a group that come and play soccer games. The park, she said, has been crowded despite warnings about COVID-19. 

“There’s been a lot of bigger groups, like soccer games, and the tennis court is really busy, and basketball is pretty busy,” she said. “People try staying away from each other, but I feel like some people just don’t really care about social distancing as much.”

Perry added that some people also may not totally understand the meaning of social distancing. Red signs are scattered throughout Roosevelt Park explaining how to properly socially distance and warning people about COVID-19. 

Pomeroy Park was mainly empty Thursday, but neighbors said on some sunnier days, people play basketball or gather in groups at the park. Ilana Levin, who lives several doors down from the park, reported a group of people playing a basketball game to SeeClickFix this week.

“I think people just don’t realize the implications of their actions, and are just going about their day like they want to go about their day,” Levin said. 

Do’s and don’ts in Burlington’s parks during the pandemic

On Thursday, Parks director Wight spoke about things people can and shouldn’t do in the parks while the state is dealing with COVID-19. 

Do: 

  • Walk and run.
  • Ride a bicycle. 
  • Rest.
  • Any other solo activities that don’t require shared equipment. 

Don’t (for now): 

  • Basketball, tennis and other court sports.
  • Organized games of baseball, soccer, and other field sports. 
  • Use playgrounds or other fitness stations.
  • Use dog parks. 
  • Gather in a group or use park shelters.
  • Any other activity that cannot be done while maintaining six feet of distance.

The department is also going to increase its use of park ambassadors in city parks, who will be on hand during the day to monitor the safety of park users and provide helpful information. How often the park ambassadors will be in the parks will depend on the park’s frequency of use and other factors, Wight said. 

In the meantime, department staff will be removing basketball hoops in parks, and locking dog parks and tennis courts. Caution tape was draped around playground equipment at both Pomeroy and Roosevelt parks on Thursday.

COVID-19 in Vermont

COVID-19 is the official name of the disease related to the coronavirus that first started to affect people in China at the end of 2019. It was first reported in Vermont in early March. 

Symptoms of COVID-19 can include fever, cough and breathing trouble. Most develop only mild symptoms. But some people, usually those with other medical complications, develop more severe symptoms, including pneumonia, which can be fatal. 

As of Thursday at 1 p.m., 338 people had tested positive for COVID-19 out of a total of 4,711 tests completed. The Vermont Health Department also reported that 17 people had died. 

Contact Elizabeth Murray at 802-651-4835 or emurray@freepressmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizMurrayBFP.

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