MERIDEN — During his 46 years living in Meriden, Parks and Recreation Director Chris Bourdon had never seen so many people hiking the trails at Hubbard Park as he did during a visit with his family last weekend.
The trails were so busy that Bourdon had trouble filming a minute-long video for his department’s Facebook page because hikers kept walking by.
“It’s great to see,” Bourdon said, “and it's also kind of sad to see that it takes something like that to get people to enjoy the parks the way they should be.”
As state and local health officials continue to urge residents to socially distance to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, more residents are heading outside to get fresh air and exercise.
Bourdon and Lea Crown, the city’s health director, encouraged residents to spend time outside as the weather gets nicer and gyms remain closed.
“I’m a firm believer in exercise benefiting people physically and emotionally, and I think the temptation a lot of times is to just stay inside and binge watch Netflix,” Bourdon said.
But officials are also reminding residents to practice social distancing while outside.
“We certainly encourage people to get out and enjoy some fresh air,” Crown said Friday in an email. “If people choose to go out for a walk, hike, run, or bike ride with others, please try to social distance with your group as much as possible. If persons are feeling ill, they should stay home.”
She also reminded residents that Gov. Ned Lamont on Thursday issued a new executive order banning social and recreational gatherings of more than 5 people, a limit that had previously been set at 10 people.
For the most part, residents have been keeping their distance outside, including along the Hubbard Park hiking trails, Bourdon said. But the city has had to close down amenities after receiving reports of large clusters of people congregating. The city took the rims off hoops at all basketball courts after about 30 youths were seen playing at Carroll Park. The city also had to close the playscape at Hubbard Park after reports of large crowds.
Bourdon said Friday that all other city-owned outdoor amenities are open, adding the city will continue to monitor for compliance.
“The last thing we want to do is shut down the parks,” Bourdon said. “We are doing our due diligence, we don't want to blanket close everything especially as the weather gets warmer. We want to give people an outlet for exercise and to get all the benefits you get from going to a park.”
The city thought it was necessary to close basketball courts, but keep other amenities like tennis courts and the municipal golf course open, because basketball games require more people and close physical contact, unlike golf and tennis.
Southington, Cheshire close playgrounds
Other municipalities in the area have also closed some recreational amenities in response to reports of people not maintaining social distancing. Cheshire Town Manager Sean Kimball issued an executive order closing tennis courts, playgrounds, basketball courts, the dog park, and the Cheshire High School grounds, including the turf field complex. Kimball made the decision in light of “ongoing gatherings” of more than five people at the facilities, according to his executive order.
Southington closed all town playscapes effective March 20, and Wallingford has not posted any closures or changes on its town website as of Friday afternoon.
Playscapes are particularly worrisome for municipalities because it’s still unclear how long the COVID-19 virus can live on hard surfaces.
According to the National Institutes of Health, a study recently found that severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), which causes COVID-19 disease, “was detectable in aerosols for up to three hours, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.”
The results, according to the NIH, “suggest that people may acquire the virus through the air and after touching contaminated objects.”
However, while it may be possible to contract the virus by touching an infected surface and then touching your face, the NIH says it “is believed to mostly spread from person-to-person through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.”
State parks remain open for “solo activity or hikes with housemates” during the pandemic, according to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Though residents should try to avoid highly trafficked areas, said Eric Hammerling, executive director of the Connecticut Forest & Park Association.
“We would definitely encourage people to get outdoors for their physical and mental health, but also to avoid going to the places where everyone goes if possible,” Hammerling said.