California quietly updates guidelines to reopen outdoor playgrounds, L.A. County follows suit

FILE PHOTO: Santa Clarita's first city-built inclusive playground opened Jan. 25, 2020. Courtesy of the city of Santa Clarita

California has quietly updated its guidance on playgrounds to show that they can reopen, even in counties under the regional stay-at-home order, following pushback from state legislators and families. 

Los Angeles County Public Health Department officials also revised their own order on outdoor playgrounds Wednesday afternoon, meaning those in the Santa Clarita Valley can now reopen. County Supervisor Hilda Solis made the announcement during a live briefing. 

County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer also addressed the county’s decision to change its guidelines once again.

“These decisions are really hard decisions and, again, it’s a balance of trying to make sure that we’re allowing children to get some physical exercise and have some activity,” said Ferrer, who said one of the reasons why playgrounds were ordered to close was due to them being unsupervised sites. “I think this is one of those situations where we’re still recommending that parents not congregate (at) playgrounds, that if there are a lot of children at the playground, do not use that playground facility.”

The state’s updated guidelines indicate playgrounds can now open but with modifications, including face masks for those 2 years of age or older with caregiver supervision at all times, no eating or drinking, washing and sanitizing hands before and after using the playground, and limiting visits to 30 minutes per day when others are present. 

Indoor playgrounds, such as bounce centers, ball pits and laser tag, must still remain closed. 

The move comes after parents and some state lawmakers urged Gov. Gavin Newsom to reconsider the closure of outdoor playgrounds under the new regional stay-at-home order, which Southern California and San Joaquin Valley fell into and five Bay Area counties opted to shut down in advance of the state’s timeline. They have cited a lack of contact tracing data that could indicate whether play areas are the source of any outbreaks. 

In a letter to the governor Dec. 4, lawmakers wrote that playgrounds are especially critical resources to lower-income communities. 

“Public playgrounds provide a shared outdoor resource for families without having to travel far, pay entrance fees or need additional outdoor gear,” read the letter. “The indefinite closure of playgrounds further disadvantages children who have limited other options for outdoor recreation and physical activity.” 

In his last COVID-19 virtual briefing as mayor of Santa Clarita Monday, Councilman Cameron Smyth said he would support the efforts of those pushing for outdoor playgrounds to reopen. 

“I will certainly be lending my voice and support to that effort because, if you do not have the data to show that these play structures are causing a spread, then they should not be closed and they should still be allowable, given the governor’s point that the need continues for outside recreation and outside fitness,” said Smyth. 

As of Tuesday morning, Los Angeles County health officials had not updated guidelines or issued statements on the matter. Counties can still adopt more restrictive measures than the state’s guidelines. A virtual briefing is scheduled for Wednesday at 1 p.m. 

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