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Mayor Elorza closing all parks, golf courses in Providence

Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza on Tuesday announced the closure of all parks, golf courses, fields, courts, green spaces and trails in the city of Providence.

The increasingly restrictive measures come as many took advantage of Monday’s sunny weather by gathering in outdoor spaces, causing concern amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The park closures go into effect at noon on Tuesday, while golf courses will close on Wednesday. The closures will last until May 8.

Popular walking and running trails that will be closed include those on Blackstone Boulevard, Roger Williams Park, North Burial Ground, Blackstone Boulevard and Pleasant Valley Parkway.

“I know this is very difficult for our city,” Elorza said in a Zoom call with reporters. “I’ve become very, very concerned and very, very upset at the pictures that I’ve seen on social media, the calls we have received about people who are indeed gathering at our parks and aren’t abiding by the social distance guidelines that we’ve been urging the past couple weeks.”

Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré said city police responded to 12 calls since Monday morning to disperse gatherings from public spaces, including at Roger Williams Park, India Point Park and basketball courts.

Elorza said police would be enforcing the closures, mainly by asking people to disperse. Paré said fines are possible.

Ernestina Johnson, out on a walk in India Point Park before the noon closure on Tuesday and wearing a mask, said she disagrees with the decision.

“The weather is good and people really need to get out a little bit,” Johnson said. “And if they don’t have a place to go … people start to go a little crazy in the house.”

The restrictions go further than Gov. Gina Raimondo, who has closed state parks and beaches but not golf courses.

Elorza’s order bans pedestrian use of the parks, while the state park closure currently only bans parking. People who live walking distance from state parks are not stopped from entering by foot.

“I’m not going in that direction though I can certainly understand why he chose to,” Raimondo said at her daily briefing Tuesday.

She said she respects Elorza’s decision to close parks and walking paths but is not planning on replicating it statewide.

“I have not taken that approach because I think people need to be able to do something,” Raimondo said. “Going for a walk is good for your physical health as well as your mental health.”

In a follow-up call with reporters, Raimondo said if she believes the Providence parks closures aren’t working she would call Elorza to share her opinion, but would not override his order.

Elorza said the city did consider other options including closing most of the park but allowing people who are actively walking or running to stay on the trails. But he said that would have been difficult to enforce, and could still result in people getting too close together.

“As you’re running, you’re breathing heavy … you’re exhaling and particles of sweat and spit and fluids are coming out,” Elorza said. “This is another opportunity for community spread.”

Liza Burkin with the Providence Streets Coalition said she agrees with Elorza’s decision, but think it needs to be coupled with some street closures (aside from local traffic or emergency vehicles) so that people can spread out.

“There are going to be some unintended consequences of this measure,” Burkin said. “If they can’t use parks, they can’t use trails, they’ll be on the sidewalks. Sidewalks are four feet wide.”

Elorza’s spokesperson Emily Crowell confirmed the city is looking into the possibility, which is been done in other cities like Denver.

Burkin said she was concerned that otherwise, pedestrians and children could end up being hit by cars in neighborhoods while trying to staying distant from others.

“What we just don’t want to see more than anything is valuable hospital resources being used for people getting into traffic accidents,” Burkin said. “That is the worst-case scenario here.”

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) covers Providence, politics and more for WPRI 12. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook

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