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Raimondo, Elorza at odds about walks in the park

Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Mayor Jorge Elorza’s office is disputing an assertion by Gov. Gina Raimondo at her daily coronavirus briefing Wednesday that people who live walking distance from a city park or trail can continue to walk there.

Elorza shuttered parks, green spaces and off-road trails, such as Blackstone Boulevard, to both parking and pedestrians Tuesday. He cited concerns that people were still gathering in groups and not following proper distancing guidelines.

The order sparked some backlash from people who said pedestrians will just be crowded onto sidewalks instead. The governor has taken a different approach with state parks and beaches, closing the parking lots but allowing pedestrians to still access the outdoor space if they live walking distance away.

In her live televised daily briefing Wednesday, Raimondo said state officials had spoken with Elorza and that the policy for Providence would be modified to allow pedestrians.

“If you are lucky enough to live within walking distance of a park or a boulevard, by all means go take a walk,” Raimondo said. “The parking lots will be closed, and we don’t want you driving there to go for a walk. And above all we don’t want to see crowds or people congregating on the boulevard, in any park.”

But Elorza’s office quickly said the governor’s remarks were not accurate.

“Per the mayor’s executive order yesterday, all Providence parks and greenspaces remain closed and this will be enforced,” Elorza’s communications director Emily Crowell said in an email.

She said the mayor has spoken with state officials and is open to partially reopening parks in the future if there is good compliance, but for now nothing has changed from his closure order on Tuesday.

In a follow-up phone call with reporters after the daily news conference, Raimondo said she would try to work out the discrepancy between her and Elorza’s messages.

“We’ll try to get this cleaned up shortly,” Raimondo said on the phone call.

Asked if she had the power to override Elorza’s executive order, Raimondo said she didn’t know because the parks are controlled by the city.

“I’d like to take a little time to see if I can get this into a better, clearer place before I investigate bringing down an official hammer,” Raimondo said.

Raimondo had said Tuesday she wanted to keep state parks and trails open to pedestrians because walking is good for both mental and physical health.

Elorza told reporters Tuesday he considered leaving the trails open at parks, but was concerned about people crossing paths and possibly spreading the coronavirus.

“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.”

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

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