Record-breaking warm weather tempted people out of isolation and into Seattle parks over the weekend, and although the city tried to keep them apart, some ignored physical distancing guidance meant to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Games were struck up on ballfields. Cars were all over the place at Discovery Park. The trails at Green Lake Park were full of skateboarders, Rollerbladers and bicyclists zooming past a sign banning skateboarding, Rollerblading and bicycling.
The city deployed about 70 “park ambassadors” around Seattle to remind people not to form groups or picnic. Police helped clear parks and popular beaches, including Golden Gardens, at 8 p.m. Saturday without incident, said Jesus Aguirre, superintendent for Seattle’s Parks and Recreation department.
“We want to be sure we can keep everybody safe,” Aguirre said. “We are monitoring it closely, and if we have to close parks again, we will.”
Enforcement at Green Lake on Sunday was sparse, although a sign warned, “Crowded Parks lead to Closed Parks.” Other signs advised, simply: “Keep it moving.”
The ambassadors are at only some of the biggest parks, so it is up to each person to follow the rules, Aguirre said. “Ambassadors can’t do this work. We all have to do this work.”
Aguirre said Sunday afternoon that despite some folks coming within 6 feet of each other — the minimum distance health experts say to stay apart to avoid spreading the virus — by and large, the weekend was progressing well.
“Overall, it was kind of what we expected,” Aguirre said. “We expected to have lots of folks out there, but they seemed to be behaving themselves, in most cases.”
Whether the parks stay open depends on how people behave, said Ernie Apreza, communications director for Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan.
“One thing we made really clear is we will move to close parks as necessary,” Apreza said. Residents should continue to observe the governor’s stay-home order and use the parks just to take a break, he added.
The city parks department continues to close parking areas at the largest parks and recommends people walk to their neighborhood park to disperse use rather than converging on popular ones.
King County parks and trails were “more heavily used than a usual May weekend, particularly those with water access,” Logan Harris, a spokesman for the county’s Department of Natural Resources and Parks, said Monday. “A few of our trailhead parking lots were full, with some users attempting to park along the road.”
Visitors “for the most part” behaved safely and kept their distance from each other, Harris said.
“Where appropriate, (we) will make adjustments to our operations, our education efforts, and where we are sending King County sheriff’s deputies to encourage visitors to recreate responsibly,” Harris said. “Based on what we experienced over the weekend, we are not intending to re-close any parks at this time, but we will continue to closely monitor the situation with Public Health — Seattle & King County.”
Mike Faulk, spokesman for Gov. Jay Inslee, said while “parks and non-park enforcement is a local responsibility,” the governor is keeping an eye on the situation — and on health statistics — especially given how crowded parks were before he moved to close them.
“As with lifting prohibitions on other activities, it may require a little more time to see how the changes in restrictions affect the data,” Faulk said. “In announcing the modifications on restrictions, the governor said he would not hesitate to turn the dial back if trend lines indicate the public health crisis is worsening.”
Inslee’s chief of staff, David Postman, confirmed the state “could move back to a more restrictive order if cases rebound.”
Seattle Times staff reporter Christine Clarridge contributed to this report.