Brooklyn Boro

De Blasio warns city may shut playgrounds as coronavirus numbers spike

A ‘new reality’ hits parks

March 25, 2020 Mary Frost
A sign at Brooklyn Bridge Park warns that team sports and close contact in parks is forbidden during the coronavirus pandemic. Mayor de Blasio said Tuesday if people can’t keep at least six feet apart, he might move to shut down playgrounds. Photo: Mary Frost/ Brooklyn Eagle

Mayor Bill de Blasio said he is giving New York City residents until Saturday evening to abide by novel coronavirus social distancing rules in parks and playgrounds.

If people don’t keep at least six feet from each other while getting fresh air and exercise, the city may shut the playgrounds, de Blasio said at a press conference Tuesday.

“We’ve very concerned that people don’t congregate,” he told reporters. Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said his patrols are out checking the playgrounds already.

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“We’re seeing in most places people are abiding by the guidelines. In other places we have more who are not,” de Blasio said.

De Blasio said the worst is yet to come as COVID-19 cases continue to multiply and the city lacks the ventilators hospitals need.

People practiced social distancing at Brooklyn Bridge Park on Tuesday. Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle
People practiced social distancing at Brooklyn Bridge Park on Tuesday. Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle

“New York City has one third the cases in the entire nation. We are the epicenter,” he said. The only way to slow the spread is by social distancing, including in parks, he added.

“We’re working with New York state and the City Council to maximize education and enforcement of people enjoying parks and playgrounds. … I’m giving the process till Saturday evening. If by the end of Saturday it’s sufficiently clear that New Yorkers are not following the rules, I’m prepared to shut down the playgrounds,” he said.

By order of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a “limited number of streets will be opened up, two per borough, as a pilot program” to reduce park congestion. The initial number is limited because there needs to be adequate law enforcement, the mayor said. The streets will be chosen by Thursday.

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Gov. Cuomo said on Sunday he had been shocked to see the number of people crowding into parks and outdoor farmers markets during a visit to the city. He singled out Prospect Park in Brooklyn, which had been packed on Saturday around the farmers market.

Cadman Plaza Park in Downtown Brooklyn was almost empty on Tuesday, with just a couple of family groups kicking balls around. Gone were the soccer teams that usually dominate the artificial turf on warm days.

Cadman Plaza Park, on Tuesday. Photo: Mary Frost/ Brooklyn Eagle
Cadman Plaza Park, on Tuesday. Photo: Mary Frost/ Brooklyn Eagle

On good behavior at Brooklyn Bridge Park

Tuesday’s sunny weather brought families and joggers out to Brooklyn Bridge Park. Most people there seemed conscious of the need to stay at least six feet from others.

“We are very aware not to get too close,” said one Brooklyn Heights mom who brought her two young children to the park to play. (She did not wish to give her name.) “We stay inside most of the time. We just came out about ten minutes ago,” she added. The family lives in One Brooklyn Bridge Park, so the park is like their backyard, she said.

Another park-goer rode her e-bike all the way from East New York. She wore a cheetah face mask and a helmet with a Garmin action video camera mounted on top.

“This is my first video that I’m filming … for people who are interested in seeing what things are like right now,” she said.

An E-bike rider who goes by the handle The Sweetest Cheetah on Instagram was filming her first video during the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday. Photo: Mary Frost/ Brooklyn Eagle
An e-bike rider who goes by the handle The Sweetest Cheetah on Instagram was filming her first video during the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday. Photo: Mary Frost/ Brooklyn Eagle

“People are out and about, wearing their masks,” she observed. Workers were also “seizing the moment all over the place — planting stuff in the park, finishing up construction.”

Most of the park-goers she saw seem to be abiding by social distancing rules, she said. “Yeah, I see it. I give people their space anyway, because I see people are intimidated by bikes, especially e-bikes.”

On Instagram she’s known as The Sweetest Cheetah (thesweetestcheetah), she said. “As a joke, the bike shop guys were like, ‘You’re cheating, you’re riding an e-bike.’”

A different reality

Brooklyn Bridge Park President Eric Landau told the Brooklyn Eagle that the park was still open, but park users faced a different reality, one of “passive use and solitary recreation.” He urged parents to enforce social distancing and noted that playground equipment is not sanitized.“We will assess how it goes this week,” he said.

Brooklyn Bridge Park is not operated by the New York City Parks Department, but rather by a Public Benefit Corporation under city control. It follows the same social distancing guidelines as city parks, however.

A man walks at a distance from other pedestrians in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Photo: Mary Frost/ Brooklyn Eagle
A man walks at a distance from other pedestrians in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Photo: Mary Frost/ Brooklyn Eagle

All permits for team play have been suspended, and areas where social distancing is not practical have been closed. The volleyball courts on Pier 6 and the basketball courts on Pier 2 have been closed since Friday, and signs explaining the new rules have been posted, Landau said. The Environmental Center is also closed, as are most of the bathrooms, for various reasons. (The bathrooms near Pier 5 and Pier 6 are still open.)

The park shut down the Picnic Peninsula and its barbecue pits on Monday. The roller rink, climbing wall, Jane’s Carousel, St. Ann’s Warehouse, Empire Stores and 1 Hotel are all closed.

“The Park Enforcement Patrol is making the rounds,” Landau said. About three quarters of the staff are working from home, but core essential operations like cleaning and trash are still going on.

As of Tuesday evening, 15,597 people in New York City had tested positive for coronavirus. Of these, 4,407 were in Brooklyn. Queens had slightly more, with 4,467. Manhattan registered fewer cases at 3,013, and the Bronx had 2,505. Staten Island had 999 cases. Across the city, 192 people had died from the disease.

Mayor de Blasio noted that those fatalities included the stupendously talented 2019 Tony Award winner Terrence McNally, known as “the bard of American theater.” De Blasio called him, “The greatest playwright in recent memory.”

For all updates on park service changes and closures go to, visit here.


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