This post has been updated to reflect new information about Balboa Park closures.
San Diegans are being encouraged to work from home and to avoid all the kinds of indoor spaces that tend to characterize life in this country: schools, movie theaters, malls, restaurants, gyms, churches. Guidance about going outdoors while the coronavirus rages, however, has been less clear.
County Public Health Officer Wilma Wooten announced a ban Wednesday on gatherings of 10 or more people in close proximity. That includes outdoor spaces.
But so long as people maintain distance from one another, and follow best practices for hygiene, there doesn’t appear to be a problem with being outdoors generally.
Many parks throughout the region remain open and accessible. In San Diego, staff are vowing to keep public restroom facilities clean by scheduling additional maintenance. While bars and venues close and restaurants go to dine-out only, open spaces continue to be a place of refuge.
But that could soon change.
California closed all its campgrounds Wednesday as a precaution but left its hiking trails and beaches open. Joshua Tree National Park also announced that its facilities were shutting down while the park continued to be open. Anyone feeling sick was advised to stay away.
Even in open spaces, the National Parks Service encouraged park-goers to avoid groups, wash hands often with soap and water, avoid touching one’s face and cover one’s mouth during a cough or sneeze.
Parks agencies are offering similar guidance while they take their cues from state, federal and county public health officials. Many county parks remain open, but plenty of the facilities on site are closed. The county has been keeping and updating a list of closed facilities on its website.
The city of San Diego closed its recreation centers and pools beginning Monday, and canceled all relevant programming. Those recreation centers are slated to reopen April 6 unless officials decide that an extension is necessary to keep the virus contained.
In the meantime, Balboa Park is still experiencing a lot of visitors, but there’s not a lot happening, event-wise.
The jewel of San Diego began closing its venues to the public on Saturday following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recommendation that gatherings of more than 250 people be canceled or postponed. By Monday, museums and the carousel had been suspended through March. The zoo shut down, too — after previously vowing to stay open.
Performances and programs in the park are sidelined as well. That includes the San Diego Youth Symphony and weekly Spreckels Organ concerts (which instead moved online).
“Visitor well-being is of utmost importance, and the members of the Balboa Park Cultural Partnership see the closure of Balboa Park venues as preventative measures to minimize the spread of COVID-19,” the Balboa Park Cultural Partnership said in a statement. “We are continuing to evaluate this fluid situation and will evaluate re-opening at the end of the month.”
The Balboa Park Conservancy announced over the weekend that the House of Hospitality — home to the visitors center, the Prado restaurant and Prado Perk coffee cart — would remain open with modified hours.
Sarah Beckman, the conservancy’s director of external relations, said keeping the House of Hospitality open means visitors and staff will have access to clean restrooms where they can wash their hands. It also means staff can stay in touch with park rangers for any security reasons and they can answer questions for “community members and visitors who come to the park in search of fresh air and exercise,” she said.
Earlier this week, however, the conservancy decided to close those facilities.
As the rain started to clear Wednesday afternoon, the Plaza de Panama began to fill again with joggers and tourists. A pair of homeless men sat on a dry patch of walkway and listened to music. Workers scrubbed floors and fixed doors.
“This is kinda like our backyard,” said Laramie Loper, a professional designer, who lives across the street from the park with her husband. They’ve been isolating at home while they work and timed their lunch break for a walk.
They’ve followed all the typical precautions, washing their hands and keeping a distance from crowded places, she said, but, “I couldn’t stay in all day.”
Everyone I talked to echoed this feeling to one degree or another.
Steve Walton, a San Diego resident and retiree, said he’d grown bored with television, bored with hearing about the virus. He visits the park three to four times every week, he said, and didn’t want to break that routine.
“I let myself be shut in yesterday, but not today,” he said. “One day is enough. You need air.”