How to Reinforce Social Distancing in Public Parks

Written by Brian Stapleton

10 ways to help citizens safely enjoy your parks during COVID-19.
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To help your citizens safely enjoy your parks during the COVID-19 crisis.

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One of the most emotionally and physically challenging aspects of the shelter-in-place mandate for many citizens is the feeling that, even though they love their home and family, that they are just not getting enough sunshine and fresh air. Our public parks are vital natural resources that are not, at least as of the time of this writing, entirely off-limits to most citizens as we work to flatten the curve of COVID-19. All citizens, however, need to respect social distancing recommendations when in public parks to ensure that they are doing their part to flatten the curve. If your parks and recreation department has issued guidance around how to safely enjoy its community parks while following COVID-19 safety regulations, but still needs help getting the message out to park-going citizens, follow our communication recommendations.

1. Create an Informational Video

Work with your mayor, county executive, or local council to film a video discussing the safe ways to enjoy your local parks during the COVID-19 crisis. Show local leaders in one of your parks, wearing a face-covering if applicable in your area, and have them address the importance of getting out, getting activity, but maintaining safe distancing from other park patrons. Include in the video a demonstration of safe social distancing, and address other common questions, such as:

  • When can those who have tested positive for COVID-19 revisit public parks?
  • Is it safe for children or seniors to visit public parks?
  • Can you visit a public park if you have encountered someone who has contracted the virus?

Seeing local leaders in your park following safety guidelines will help reinforce to concerned citizens that parks are still a safe resource as long as everyone follows wellness precautions.

2. Reinforce Safety Precautions to Local Mental Health Providers

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified mental health as a concern during the COVID-19 crisis. Social isolationism may exacerbate feelings of anxiety, depression, and loneliness among some citizens; however, getting outside and getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity at least three times per week may help some individuals cope with COVID-19-related anxiety. Send a communication to licensed mental health providers in your community, encouraging them to recommend that eligible patients take advantage of local parks, as long as they follow social distancing requirements and are not otherwise at risk of catching or spreading the virus.

3. Network with Pet Owners

Many citizens are visiting parks daily to ensure their pets are also staying active despite the temporary closing of their doggy daycare centers and walk groups. Create a Facebook group for pet owners in your community. Encourage them to share photos, videos, and feedback about what it’s like living and working from home with their pet. Use the group as a channel to remind pet owners how to stay safe in your parks, such as keeping your pet on a four-foot leash always to ensure they can control the distance between themselves and other park guests.

4. Dispatch Essential Staff to Provide On-Site Guidance

Depending on the availability and capabilities of your staff, dispatch a member of your team into your parks a few times per week to monitor social distancing behavior. Train your staff members on how to politely encourage those not following safety protocols to adjust their behavior, whether it be wearing a face mask during their next visit, or keeping a greater distance from other visitors on trails and in grassy areas.

5. Encourage Citizens to Show Their Safe Park Use on Social Media

One of the most impactful ways to showcase safe park use is from peer testimonials. Create a social media campaign that encourages your citizens to show themselves social distancing safely in parks and tag your parks and rec social media profiles on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and any other social platforms that you use. Not only will such video and photo testimonials reinforce safety behaviors, but they may also help motivate citizens who have been hesitant to get out and get active to enjoy their local resources.

6. Encourage Groups to Socialize Virtually

Groups of friends and families that often gather in public are missing their time together. Encourage them to coordinate a virtual get-together or participate in one of your community’s virtual community events. If you’re still building out your catalog of virtual recreation services, click below to access our 14 virtual engagement ideas.

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7. Maintain Open Communication Channels

If we’re honest, social isolationism feels a little bit like being grounded. To ensure your citizens feel like their local government leaders have their best interests at heart, and are doing more than issuing rules and restricting movement, ensure you are encouraging citizens to contact your department with any questions or concerns, and give them a simple anytime, anywhere channel to initiate outreach. For health and safety concerns about the sanitation of your public parks, encourage citizens to submit a service request using your 311 software.

8. Share Ideas for Solo Park Activities

Some citizens may be unsure of what to do in your local parks if they can’t bring their full crew for a game or picnic. Issue guidance for activities that can safely be performed alone or with a partner or child while social distancing, such as:

  • Walking a dog
  • Trail walking
  • Jogging
  • Yoga
  • Reading a book
  • Meditation
  • Journaling
  • Light calisthenics

Consider partnering with a mobile app service like activacuity that offers guided workouts or meditation techniques to encourage citizens to try something new.

Also, reinforce what activities are temporarily prohibited, such as surfing, playground use, and pool use, to help keep citizens safe.

9. Post Temporary Signage at Park Entrances

News, education, and guidance surrounding COVID-19 are evolving every week. To help ensure citizens understand the latest requirements, post temporary signage at park entrances reinforcing specific requirements regarding social distancing, groups, closing hours, face coverings, and who should stay quarantined instead of visiting public parks.

10. Reinforce Guidance Via All Available Communication Channels

Until we recover as a nation from COVID-19, local leaders agree that communication will continue to be crucial. To give your vital regulatory messages the best possible chance of being received and remembered by citizens, communicate regularly and repeatedly via all available communication channels, including your parks and recreation department website, your social media accounts, email, outdoor signage, and with media outlets.

The Vital Role of Our Public Parks

The COVID-19 crisis has reinforced to citizens the value and importance of their local parks. They are looking to parks and recreation leaders more than ever for reassurance that their parks will continue to be a place of enjoyment and refuge during this frightening time of social isolation. By helping citizens understand how to use parks safely, you can give them a healthy social outlet and help do your part to flatten the curve of this dangerous virus.