City staff said their assessment at the end of the weekend was that "people were overwhelmingly compliant with the closure of the 15 largest parks."
Foot traffic was much lighter than usual this weekend in Seattle’s largest parks, which would typically see a crush of people in warm weather — but hundreds of sun-deprived residents still showed up even though the parks were officially closed. Despite city orders to stay away from 15 of the city’s most popular parks to slow further spread of the novel coronavirus, some families, couples, cyclists and joggers apparently couldn’t resist as cooler weather burned off into a warm, cloudless day Sunday afternoon. As temperatures rose, Seattle Parks and Recreation staff scrambled to block entrances at Gas Works Park, where police had to shoo people away. Washington’s total count of confirmed COVID-19 cases reached 10,411 Sunday, including 508 deaths, according to the Washington State Department of Health, with 187 new cases and 17 additional deaths. Though early evidence shows that Washington’s social distancing measures are working to fend off a bigger surge of cases and even more deaths, health officials warn that infections could come roaring back at even higher rates if restrictions are prematurely lifted. “If we behave like we have gone back to normal, if we stop physical distancing, it could undo all our progress,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in a Medium post published before the weekend. “It could get more people sick. It could get people killed.” City staff said their assessment at the end of the weekend was that “people were overwhelmingly compliant with the closure of the 15 largest parks.” That said, “we had hundreds that still went to our largest parks, which could have been exponentially larger without the closure,” Parks spokesperson Rachel Schulkin said by email. Data collected by Parks staff using a new hourly activity tracker showed that for Saturday, use of the parks was mostly on the low side, and people largely followed social distancing guidelines. The closures were only in effect for this past weekend, and the city will evaluate whether to implement them again, Schulkin said. Mayor Jenny Durkan credited Parks staff and the people who abided by social distancing with keeping crowds at bay. “Seattle and our region continue to be near the peak of this virus, and the collective action of Seattleites who chose to stay inside on the most beautiful weekend of the year is saving lives and slowing the spread,” Durkan said in a statement Sunday evening. “With the deployment of our ambassadors and closure of our largest parks, we were able to ensure more of our outdoor spaces could maintain increased social distancing.” On Saturday at Alki Beach Park, several Parks employees gently and sporadically encouraged people to leave the beach. But during the late afternoon, there were never more than two dozen violators on the long, sandy stretch. Friday saw much greater numbers there. By Sunday afternoon, there were about 60 people in clusters no larger than four along the half-mile sandy stretch northeast of the Alki Beach Bathhouse. A few placards planted in the sand directed people not to gather in groups, but there were no obvious signs that the park was closed. A couple of police officers stood by the bike path in case they were needed, but no one appeared to be enforcing the city’s order by directing people to leave the park. Taylor Carlson and Helen Mountjoy-Venning hadn’t planned on visiting Alki when they set out for a bike ride Sunday. The two colleagues knew the park was closed for the weekend. But as they cycled along the path along the sand, they decided to hit the beach anyway. “We’re farther from people in the park …” Mountjoy-Venning said, as Carlson interjected, “than we are biking.” It was true. Cyclists, roller-skaters, skateboarders and pedestrians streamed by the narrow path along the beach Sunday, far outnumbering the few dozen people who ventured into the park’s sandy beaches to picnic, take photos and prospect for rocks and sea shells. Some people interviewed at closed parks said they knew the parks were closed and broke the rules anyway. Others said they weren’t aware of the closures. On Cal Anderson Park’s athletic field Sunday morning, Brett North and Bill Stevens, both 34, were running sprints to lose weight for a festival season they hoped wouldn’t be canceled. Neither were aware the park was closed before speaking to a reporter, they said. “If people quarantine themselves, we’ve got nothing to worry about,” Stevens said. After Stevens and North finished speaking to a reporter, they continued to sprint on the field. Soon after, park concierge Chuck Scott, 52, intercepted them and told them the park was not open. At the same park, Lauren, who declined to provide her last name for fear of being outed as a scofflaw, allowed her sheepadoodle, Elway, to roll around in the grass. She knew the park was closed, but came anyway. “I guess it’s kind of frustrating,” she said of the park closures. “We come here three times a day.” Within minutes, Scott had approached Lauren, Elway and another woman and her dog, and informed them the park was closed. Scott told The Seattle Times he wasn’t too concerned by the people he had seen in the park. “Mostly everyone is aware of the rules,” he said. But as temperatures ticked higher through Sunday, there were signs that more people were showing up to parks to enjoy the sunshine. As temperatures rose above 55 degrees, a steady flow of joggers, cyclists and roller-bladers could be seen circling Green Lake on the park trail by the water. The tennis and basketball courts were empty, but several picnic blankets still dotted the daisy-filled hills nearby. There were few indications that the park was closed. Hannah McCausland, 23, and Bubba Schwanner, 31, said they didn’t realize Green Lake Park was off-limits. The couple was having a picnic with wine, cheese, strawberries and backgammon to celebrate their six-month anniversary. Green Lake wasn’t their first choice, however. The couple first tried Gas Works Park before getting kicked out. “We need[ed] to get out,” McCausland said. McCausland had been struggling with her mental health in recent weeks, she said, and being cooped up wasn’t helping. “I think not knowing when it’s going to end — that’s what drives my anxiety,” McCausland said. At Discovery Park on Sunday, gated entrances that had been open the day before were tied with chains and zip ties. A parking lot off Emerson Street West was blocked with caution tape and the pedestrian entrance was chained with a paper sign that read “park closed until Mon,” accompanied by a smiley face. Some still managed to get inside the city’s largest park. Around 4 p.m., a group of hikers and cyclists who said they came in near the beach were having trouble finding their way out. A group at Gas Works Park on Sunday, however, ignored Parks staffers’ directions to leave until Seattle police were called, the Parks Department said. Even after police dispersed the group, Parks employees scrambled to intercept droves of other people on foot, bicycle and Solowheel as they attempted to get inside Gas Works later in the afternoon. Several people and their dogs managed to slip through the park’s initial defenses before being asked to leave once inside. Others made alternative plans: Across the street from the main Gas Works parking lot, Connor McDermott, 27, and Garbo Grossman, 31, inflated a raft. Their plan was to avoid the park, but still enjoy some socially distant time on Lake Union. “It makes sense,” McDermott said of the city’s decision to close major parks. “It’s a nice day. Otherwise there would be swarms of people.” Seattle Times staff writers Daniel Beekman, Paige Cornwell and Daniel Gilbert contributed to this report.